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Oscar 2011—Fair, Fickle, or Foul?

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This is the one that counts. The Golden Globes may have the party with the most fun (drinking is allowed during the show), and the Screen Actors Guild has the largest trophies. An Oscar, however, is still the most prestigious acting award, something that will be attached to the star’s name even after death.

So, make no mistake, while Sunday night’s awards ceremony seems to be all about the red carpet—the dresses, the jewels, the hairdos, and who comes with whom—this event is really about the bottom line. A film that wins an Academy Award can take that golden statue to the bank. Box office receipts increase in direct proportion to how many and which awards the film wins. Actors and actresses, even those whose careers were previously in the toilet, can now count on getting A-list scripts and commercial endorsements. They may say it’s an honor to be nominated—and it is. But it’s so much better to be nominated and win.

The Academy stresses that each award is for a specific performance, that’s why the awards are described as, for example, The Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Everyone outside the Academy shortens this to Best Actor, but the “Best Performance” distinction is more accurate. After all, who can say even in one year who truly is the Best Actor? Coming up with five Best Performances in the Leading and Supporting categories for both actors and actresses is a more doable, although not simple, task. (There’s always a debate about Leading versus Supporting performances, but that’s another story).

Other factors do influence the voting, of course. After all, Academy members are human and they have their favorites, too. There’s a long tradition in the Academy for awarding an actor or director towards the end of a career. That’s why stars like Paul Newman, Al Pacino, and Martin Scorsese were nominated several times, but eventually won, not for their best work, but because Academy members felt it was time to recognize them.

While Academy members are supposed to be focused on the star’s performance, often what happens off the screen is as important as what happens on the screen. This year’s controversy involves nominee Melissa Leo, who has already won the Golden Globe and SAG awards for her supporting performance in The Fighter. Her faux pas? Leo took out her own ads in the trade press promoting herself with the headline “For Your Consideration.” Usually the studios take out ads to try to win votes. Never before has an individual actor done so.

And you thought you were just watching an awards show? Where Hollywood is concerned, nothing is ever easy. But then again, what would Hollywood be without a few surprise endings?

Here are our picks for this year’s winners. Check back after the ceremony to see how we did.

YouTube Preview ImageBest Film

Last year the Academy increased the number of Best Film nominees from five to ten, ostensibly because there are so many great films each year, widening the field allows more movies to be considered. If you believe that, review what we said in our introduction: Oscars are all about the box office, so more nominated films translates into more revenue for the studios.

Cynicism aside, this year’s roster of films is a good one. There’s not a ringer in the group, ranging from the animated Toy Story 3 to the intense Black Swan, with each film worthy of being singled out for this nomination. Only one film can win, however. The Social Network emerged as an early frontrunner, having won the Golden Globe, but the field was leveled when The King’s Speech won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Now it appears that The King’s Speech will emerge as the winner. Our preoccupation for all things royal, a result of Will and Kate’s upcoming nuptials, may have tipped the scales.

Winner: The King’s Speech

YouTube Preview ImageDirector

It makes sense that Best Film and Best Director should go hand in hand. In recent times, however, the Academy has seen fit to split these two categories, awarding the Best Film Oscar to one film, the Best Directing Oscar to another. That principle should hold this year. If The King’s Speech wins Best Film, the runner up, The Social Network, will win Best Directing Honors for David Fincher. It’s not logical, but, hey, this is Hollywood.

Winner: David Fincher, The Social Network

YouTube Preview ImageBest Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

We’ve been in love with Colin Firth since his turn as Mr. Darcy in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, followed by the 2001 film, Bridget Jones’s Diary where he played Mark Darcy, a modern day version of Jane Austen’s hero. Last year Firth was nominated for A Single Man, losing out to Jeff Bridges for his fabulous performance as “Bad Blake” in Crazy Heart. Bridges is nominated again this year for reprising John Wayne’s turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. This category is a strong one with James Franco (127 Hours), Javier Bardem (Biutiful), and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), rounding out the list. This year, however, belongs to Firth.

Winner: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

YouTube Preview ImageBest Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Poor Annette Bening. After her stellar performance in The Kids Are All Right, insiders were ready to hand over that Oscar without even viewing the competition. Then Natalie Portman danced onto the stage, and dance she did. Hollywood loves to recognize actors who go the extra mile, those who train rigorously for a role (Hilary Swank as a fighter in Million Dollar Baby), gain or lose weight (George Clooney in Syriana, Charlize Theron in Monster, and Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull), or immerse themselves into their character (Daniel Day-Lewis who spent time in a wheelchair before filming My Left Foot). Portman lost weight and trained for more than six months to play ballerina Nina Sayers in The Black Swan. Her performance was beautiful and haunting. She was handed the role of a lifetime and danced away with it.

Nicole Kidman, nominated for The Rabbit Hole, is already an Oscar winner (2002’s The Hours), but hasn’t had a hit since. This nomination will put her back on top. Both Blue Valentine’s Michelle Williams (nominated in the supporting category for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain) and Winter’s Bone’s Jennifer Lawrence are sure to show up on Oscar’s list again.

Winner: Natalie Portman, The Black Swan

YouTube Preview ImageBest Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale has won both the Golden Globe and SAG awards for his performance as a drug-addicted, washed up boxer in The Fighter. Bale doesn’t just act—he inhabits the character, something that seems to be his modus operandi. To play Trevor Reznik in 2004’s The Machinest, Bale lost 63 pounds, and he also lost weight to play Dicky Eklund, opposite Mark Wahlberg as Dicky’s brother, Mickey Ward. Bale’s only competition in this category comes from Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helps King George VI (Colin Firth) overcome his stutter in The King’s Speech. John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone and Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right are surprise entries in this category, each delivering solid performances, but nothing that will catch Bale. Jeremy Renner, nominated last year in the actor’s category for The Hurt Locker, will walk the red carpet two year’s running, this year for his turn in The Town. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Winner: Christian Bale, The Fighter

YouTube Preview ImageBest Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Melissa Leo had this award sewn up. Then came her personal campaign to score a win by taking out ads in the trade press. What was she thinking? The Internet has been buzzing with her possible motives, but, in the end, why she did it doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether she has killed her opportunity to walk away an Oscar winner. Unlike the actor category, Leo faces formidable competition, beginning with her co-star in The Fighter, Amy Adams, a Hollywood favorite. Helena Bonham Carter, queen opposite Firth, could benefit from the momentum enjoyed by The King’s Speech. Animal Kingdom may have gone unnoticed by many, but Academy voters were impressed enough by Jacki Weaver’s eerie performance as a mother protecting her criminal sons, that she was nominated over other actresses in higher visibility films. Then there’s Hailee Steinfeld, the young star who burst on the scene playing the young Mattie Ross in True Grit. The Supporting Actress category has recognized child performers in the past, Tatum O’Neal, at age ten for 1973’s Paper Moon, and Anna Paquin, at age 11, for 1993’s The Piano. Steinfeld’s performance was Oscar-worthy and at age 14, she fits in this category.

Winner: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

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