A Close Race for the 2011 Oscars

“The King’s Speech” will most likely walk away with Best Picture at the Academy Awards this February.

Feb. 1, 2011

The 2011 Academy Award nominations were released on Jan. 25, signaling the beginning of the final round of the 2010 awards season. As of 2007, there were 5,835 members of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, split into 15 different branches, including writers, directors, cinematographers, animators and more. Each branch is allowed to vote only for nominees in its own category–for example, directors are only allowed to vote for Best Director. All members vote for Best Picture. Since 2009, there have been 10 nominees in the Best Picture category, though most categories remain at five or fewer.

This year the nominees for Best Picture are Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. The real competition, however, is between The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the two films that have been doing the best at other award shows this season. These two films are drastically different, highlighting the division in the Academy between older and younger voters.

The King’s Speech is classic Oscar bait, featuring actors who have won or been nominated before, including lead Colin Firth, who was nominated last year for A Single Man. It is also a period piece set in England directly before World War II and features a protagonist overcoming a handicap–in this case, a stutter. All of these factors make it a classic “Oscar movie.” It is also nominated for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay and other technical categories.

The Social Network, on the other hand, tells a modern story. The film details the creation of Facebook, giving a vicious account of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. None of the actors are big stars–discounting Justin Timberlake–though director David Fincher was previously nominated in 2008 for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and writer Aaron Sorkin has found acclaim both in film (A Few Good Men) and television (The West Wing). The Social Network is appealing to younger voters, and many in the AMPAS see it as a way to lure a new generation of viewers to the ceremony, which is currently not as popular an event as it was in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In the Best Director race, the nominees map perfectly onto the top five Best Picture Nominees: Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, David O. Russell for The Fighter, Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, David Fincher for The Social Network and Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit. Russell and Hooper are the only two in this category who have not been previously nominated. I would like to see Aronofsky win this category. His Black Swan is dark, violent and sexual, and it is the nominated film in which the director’s view is clearest. Aronofsky guided what could have been a tacky and obscene picture and instead made it artistic, beautiful and terrifying.

The nominees for Best Actress are Natalie Portman for Black Swan, Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right, Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole, Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone and Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine. I think Annette Bening has the best chance of winning this award, as she has already won best actress at the Golden Globes. Bening has received a lot of acclaim for her role as Nic, one half of a lesbian couple whose children bring their sperm-donor father into the family’s lives. She was previously nominated for an Oscar in 2004 for Being Julia and in 1999 for American Beauty.

The Best Actor race is again between The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg and The King’s Speech‘s Colin Firth. The other nominees are Javier Bardem for Biutiful, Jeff Bridges for True Grit and James Franco for 127 Hours. Firth is most likely to win this award, as he plays a man dealing with and overcoming disability; this type of storyline is famous for attracting Oscar votes. Some recent nominees and winners who played disabled heroes include Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, Sean Penn in I Am Sam, Jamie Foxx in Ray, Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby and Julie Christie in Away from Her. This category is more interesting this year, however, because Franco is both nominated for Best Actor and hosting the awards with Anne Hathaway. It will be fun to see how the producers of the show display Franco winning or losing.

Best Supporting Actress is similar to most of the categories of this year’s awards in that the probable winner is already known. Melissa Leo, as Alice Ward, the strong, selfish mother of two boxing contenders in The Fighter has already won the Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress and will most likely pick up a statue at the Oscars. Other nominees in this category include Amy Adams also for The Fighter; Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech; Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit; and Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom. Though Leo will in all probability win the Oscar, I would like to see 14-year-old Steinfeld receive recognition for her remarkable portrayal of a young girl searching the uncivilized U.S. territories for her father’s killer. Young actors and actresses rarely win awards, as most Academy voters consider older, more experienced nominees to be more deserving. However, Steinfeld impressed me as the true star of this film, keeping up with fellow actors Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin. She also showed a range of emotions more vividly than either Carter or Adams.

In some ways, the Best Supporting Actor race is the most heated of all the acting categories this year. Nominees Christian Bale for The Fighter and Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech are thought to lead the pack, though Jeremy Renner is a close third for Ben Affleck’s The Town, and John Hawkes and Mark Ruffalo also give great performances in Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right, respectively. I think Christian Bale will win for his performance as the real-life, crack-addicted former boxing champion Dicky Eklund, particularly as producers of the film have publicized Bale’s commitment to the role, including losing weight. It would not be surprising, however, to see Geoffrey Rush win, as The King’s Speech momentum is likely to carry over into this category as well.

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