So many movies. So little time.
Watching the Academy Awards is always more fun when you’ve seen most or all of the nominated films and actors. That was our goal. Our timing could have been better. This year, the Academy decided to increase the number of Best Film nominees from five to ten, saying that in the past too many great films failed to be considered. That may be true, but the Academy’s move was a financial one. It’s no secret that an Academy Award nomination—whether for the film or for an actor—increases box office revenues.
We are living proof that the Academy’s strategy worked. In our quest to see all the movies nominated in four categories—Best Film, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and Best Director—we needed to view 18 films. With ticket prices in Manhattan running $12.50 a person ($14 a person if you buy tickets in advance on Fandango) we were making a major investment. (And we’re not adding in dragging along a spouse for another $14 per film, plus what we spent on popcorn, drinks, and transportation). In total, we each spent an estimated $250 to see all the nominated films. Yet in order to predict our own winners, we needed to see everything. The race was on.
This year the nominations were announced on February 2 and the ceremony scheduled for March 7. Fortunately, we did see some of the films beforehand. But that still left more than a handful to see before this evening when ABC-TV will broadcast the awards ceremony live from Los Angeles. We soon discovered that several of the nominated films were no longer playing in theaters. At least three—Inglorious Basterds, District 9, and A Serious Man—were available on pay-per-view or on DVD. Nine, whose lone nominee was Penelope Cruz in the Best Supporting Actress category, had disappeared from New York theaters but was not yet available on TV or DVD. Debra had already seen Nine, while Charlene was able to find it while vacationing in Las Vegas playing on pay-per-view in her hotel room. Phew!
We saw some films we ordinarily would not have seen. We did not want to see The Hurt Locker, knowing the film showed army specialists who defuse bombs in Iraq. Or Precious, about a Harlem teen who is sexually abused by her father. We both agree that these two films are not to be missed. We were less thrilled with The Messenger, District 9, and The Lovely Bones (above). But they held our attention and in each we found performances we admired. In the end, we were glad we saw all the films.
So who will win? How the Academy selects the winners is more complicated than most viewers know. While the Academy stresses that the acting awards are for a specific performance, there’s no doubt that an actor’s body of work often comes into play. Hollywood is a clique and the clique likes to reward its own. So an actor or a director who has put in the time and somehow failed to win an Oscar will finally get his or her due. Now the winning performance or film still has to be good, even great. But the best that year? The best that person has ever done? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Martin Scorsese won in 2006 for The Departed. His best film? Not by a long shot when his resume includes Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. But the golden statuette had somehow eluded Scorsese, so Hollywood finally decided his time had come and he went home a winner.
Also, there’s the sentimentality factor. Oscars have been awarded posthumously twice, most recently to Heath Ledger for his performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight. In 1976, Peter Finch (left) won for his role as the out-of-control anchorman in Network. (His famous line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” lives on). Were these two performances on their own Oscar-worthy? We’ll never really know.
There’s also the big budget factor. Oscar oftentimes passes by those films that bring in the big bucks, choosing instead to award films that have more artistic merit. That trend came to a crashing halt in 1997 with the blockbuster Titanic. The Academy is no longer afraid to reward those films that are crowd pleasers and score big at the box office.
So here are our predictions. In our minds, these are the films and performances that will win.
Charlene and Debra—Avatar
James Cameron will be the “king of the world,” or perhaps more than one world, again, when he takes home the Oscar for Avatar. He beat his Titanic box office record with Avatar taking in more than $2 billion worldwide. This film was fun on all levels. The plot line may have rubbed some the wrong way, but the 3D graphics made up for Cameron’s preaching. He created a world that was visually breathtaking, while the performances, particularly Sigourney Weaver’s, were strong.
Charlene and Debra—Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Should the Best Director Award go to the person who directed the Best Film? In the past, the two went hand in hand. But in more recent years, the Academy has seen fit to split the two, allowing more members and films to be honored. In truth, The Hurt Locker is the more powerful film and should take home both trophies. Bigelow’s film is truly riveting. But awarding Bigelow the director’s trophy will be even more symbolic. She’s only the fourth woman to be nominated in this category and would be the first to win. Much has been made about the fact that she and Cameron were once married and continue to be good friends. Dividing the awards in this manner will allow the Academy to honor two of its most valuable contributors.
Best Performance by An Actor in a Leading Role
Charlene—Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart
Bridges has been nominated before and never won. It’s his time and the standing ovation he received after winning the Golden Globe is the tip off that his fellow actors want to recognize the impressive body of work he has built up. The fact that he’s Hollywood royalty (father, Lloyd, brother, Beau) doesn’t hurt either. And his performance in Crazy Heart is truly Oscar caliber. Playing an over-the-hill country singer, Bridges sings his way into our hearts.
Debra—Colin Firth for A Single Man
While Jeff Bridges is certainly the sentimental favorite, nobody can beat Colin Firth’s nuanced performance. This part could have been easily over-acted, but Firth’s performance was taut and spare. His pain infused all of his actions; even when dancing with Julianne Moore, we knew he was barely holding himself together.
Best Performance by An Actress in a Leading Role
Charlene—Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side
Bullock has been the go-to gal for many years in a whole list of romantic comedies. She first came onto the scene with Speed, driving a bus without a license. She doesn’t always select the best material (if she wins, she will do so in the year she also won the Razzy for the worst performance in the clunker All About Steve), but she has a solid fan base and has managed a scandal-free career. A feat in and of itself! Although she’s up against two grand dames—Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia, and Helen Mirren in The Last Station—both have won before. The other two nominees—Gabourey Sidibe for Precious, and Carey Mulligan for An Education—are newcomers and considered longshots to win. And Bullock’s performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, who adopts an African American high school student, Michael Oher, who goes on to play for the Baltimore Ravens, is a winner. So, in both these categories—actor and actress—the good guys playing the good guys win.
Debra—Meryl Streep for Julie and Julia
Yes, yes, Bullock is good, and she was entertaining as Leigh Ann Tuohy, but it wasn’t an award winning performance in an Oscar worthy role. Streep, on the other hand, captured not only the voice and physical demeanor of Julia Child, but Child’s infectious joie de vivre.
Best Performance by An Actor in a Supporting Role
Charlene—Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones
Actors are oftentimes rewarded for taking risks. And Stanley Tucci took a huge one tackling the role of a serial murderer of young girls in The Lovely Bones. Initially, he was reluctant to play this part, but his wife, Kate, talked him into it. She died shortly afterwards from cancer. Tucci also played the husband to Meryl Streep’s Julia Child, another role where he excelled. But he will win for playing this bad guy, and deservedly so. This is Tucci’s first nomination and like Bridges and Bullock, he has built up a very impressive resume. The only actor that could possibly upset him here would be Christoph Waltz, who played a vicious Nazi in Inglorious Basterds. Academy sentiment, however, should favor Tucci.
Debra—Christoph Waltz for Inglorious Basterds
The Academy loves to honor foreigners; it’s almost as though they can’t believe someone can act in English if it’s not their first language. Waltz did a superb job as the terrifying, sometimes humorous, always disturbing Nazi, in any language. Although I am not sure he would have been so good without Brad Pitt as the perfect nemesis.
Best Performance by An Actress in a Supporting Role
Charlene and Debra—Mo’Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire
Like Tucci, Mo’Nique took a huge risk portraying the mother from hell who allows Precious to be impregnated twice by her father. Mo’Nique is virtually unrecognizable in the role of Mary, who not only abuses her daughter physically and emotionally, but also blames her for stealing her husband. Smoking nonstop and living like a recluse, Mo’Nique’s Mary is every social worker’s nightmare. No one else in this category can touch her. It’s a slam dunk. So the good guys playing the bad guys will win, too.
So pop the corn (or cork), put up your feet, and hope Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin are funny and keep the evening moving along. The envelope please……..