Billy Crystal is back and so is the excitement. There were so many wonderful films and performances this year, that the 2012 Academy Awards will truly be a competition. In 2009, the Academy increased the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten. At the time, it seemed like a desperate attempt by the studios to increase box office revenues by including more films. This year, only nine films got the nod, but each one is deserving of the honor. Not only are the films strong contenders, but also within those movies are some outstanding performances, those that will continue to be admired for years to come.
This is an eclectic group of films, ranging from a black and white silent movie, to an epic Spielberg production with special effects, battles, and lots of horses. There are films that touch upon painful periods in our nation’s history, the battle for civil rights and the tragedy of 9/11. Relationships figure prominently, whether that involves a father trying to deal with his wife’s infidelity and win back his daughters, or an impressionable writer falling in love in Paris. Two are visually breathtaking, one showing us the beginning of life, the other a fantasy-like world seen by a boy living in a Paris train station. Sports are covered, too, with an inside look at the world of baseball.
We set out to see all the nominated films, as well as all the nominated performances in the four categories. Truth be told, there were some films and some performances that might not have been on our list except for the nominations. We’re glad we did not overlook anything that was singled out. We discovered some terrific performances by actors whose names were unknown to us. They are now on our radar.
The Academy Award event follows on the heels of the other award shows, the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor Guild Awards. Yet, Oscar is still the one that counts. The winning film will see the result in increased revenues at the box office and in DVD sales. For the actors and actresses who walk away with that golden statute, new scripts, offers, and endorsements will begin to pour in. So, while it’s nice to be nominated, it’s even nicer, and more profitable, to win.
So here are our picks for the winners. If you’d like to read our review of a film, click on the title. Check back after the awards to see how we did.
Beating out four films was tough; beating out eight is even tougher, particularly this year. The films are so different, each with its own unique appeal, that it’s like comparing apples, to oranges, to bananas. The Golden Globes crowned two winners, The Artist in the Comedy or Musical category, and The Descendants in the Drama category, while the SAG Award for best ensemble went to The Help. What will Oscar do?
The Tree of Life opened in May, won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, and was quickly anointed as a possible winner. The film, breathtaking and intriguing, failed to capture a mainstream audience. War Horse opened on Christmas Day, along with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and, again, the two were rumored to be strong contenders. The buzz, however, was drowned out with enthusiasm for other movies including Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Moneyball was great summer entertainment, particularly for baseball fans, but will not hit a homerun on Oscar night.
The battle is between The Help and The Artist. While The Artist wins points for creativity and echoing so many of those beloved old Hollywood films, The Help is truly an American film and one with a message that has resonated with a diverse audience.
Our prediction: The Help
After Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker in 2009, our hope was we would see more women directors being nominated in this category. This year, however, the five nominees are all male. Unfortunately, Tate Taylor, a relative newcomer in Hollywood, did not receive a nomination for The Help, so if the film wins as Best Picture, he will not make it a double play.
Martin Scorsese took until 2006 to win for The Departed. He could find himself on the stage once again for departing from form and, rather than a mob movie, brought us the gem, Hugo, based on a children’s book, winning the Golden Globe. Woody Allen is a long shot for Midnight in Paris (he never shows up anyway), as is Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. Scorsese’s competition will come from Michael Hazanavicius for The Artist and Alexander Payne for The Descendants.
Our prediction: Martin Scorsese for Hugo
Mexican actor Demián Bichir delivered a beautifully nuanced performance in A Better Life, and he will certainly now be sought after for future roles. This time, however, Oscar will pass him by. He is competing in a tough category, up against two Hollywood heavyweights (George Clooney for The Descendants and Brad Pitt for Moneyball), an “actor’s actor” (Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and a French sensation (Jean Dujardin in The Artist). Clooney took home the Golden Globe in the drama category, while Dujardin won in the Comedy/Musical category. It will be a horserace between the two. Clooney enjoys enviable popularity among his fellow actors. He has one Oscar in the supporting category for Syriana, and another one wouldn’t hurt. Dujardin, however, seems to have the edge here, especially if the film fails to win.
Our prediction: Jean Dujardin for The Artist
In 2009, Viola Davis was nominated in the Best Supporting category for Doubt. And could she cry! She had us in tears again with her turn in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Her work on stage has earned her many honors, including the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award. In 2011, she hit her stride in The Help as Aibileen Clark, an African-American maid working for a white family at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. For the role, she won the SAG Award, but lost out to Meryl Streep for the Golden Globe. Although Streep, who played Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, remains her closest competition, Davis could pull this one off. Michelle Williams, who was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for Brokeback Mountain, lit up the screen in My Week with Marilyn, but the film faltered at the box office. Glenn Close took a risk with Albert Nobbs, but the film, as well as her performance, was unconventional and she is a long shot to win. Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has two more films in the trilogy to nab the statue.
Our prediction: Viola Davis for The Help
This category is perhaps one of the more interesting, certainly one of the most sentimental. We have two octogenarians—Christopher Plummer in Beginners and Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close––turning in masterful performances. We also have a septuagenarian, Nick Nolte, whose real life journey mirrors the one in Warrior. Then we have Kenneth Branagh, the British stage actor who brought Shakespeare to the screen, playing the esteemed Shakespearean actor, Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn. The kid in the group is Jonah Hill who crunched the numbers in Moneyball. There’s not a weak player in this group, but Plummer, who has already won the Golden Globe and SAG Award will be singing “Edelweiss” all the way home.
Our prediction: Christopher Plummer for Beginners
This is the fun category. How can it not be with Melissa McCarthy one of the nominees for her hysterical turn in Bridesmaids? Bérénice Bejo was mesmerizing in The Artist, while Janet McTeer pulled off the gender switch with aplomb in Albert Nobbs. Jessica Chastain, who also appeared in The Tree of LIfe, was nominated for her role in The Help as a white woman who is shunned by the society women. Octavia Spencer, also in The Help, has already won the Golden Globe and SAG Award and will probably add an Oscar to her cache.
Our prediction: Octavia Spencer for The Help
So pop some corn, pour the drinks, and get ready for a fun evening.