The 83rd Academy Awards: 2011 Oscar Picks

It's that time of year again. Time for me (and my friend Chris Wieder) to take a stab at predicting the turnout of this year's Academy Awards. The format below is basically the same as my picks were from last year (see previous blog post): the categories, the nominees, which nominees from that category that Wieder and I have seen, and our thoughts about that category. We've picked the seven most well known categories, and with a little luck we'll disagree somewhere (I did not read Wieder's picks prior to making my own). Otherwise, what's the fun in having multiple opinions?

Wieder is a friend and former co-worker who, I must say, has pretty decent taste in movies. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have seen Winter's Bone as early as I did. Knowing that he and I have many of the same interests when it comes to movies, I will apologize in advance on the off chance that he and I have similar rants concerning the Best Lead Actress category.

So here are a few words from him then on to the picks!

Hello there. While I can safely say I've not seen as many of the nominees as the host of this fine blog (and really, who among us can?), I think I can hang with Timmy B because I have seen a good number of them. Couple that with the fact that as a Patriots fan, Tim's opinions are obviously a little shaky, and who knows. So let's go to the tape, or maybe the DVD/BluRay disc, and get this thing started...

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published:

Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours), Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Michael Arndt; story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit), Debra Grankik and Anne Rosellini (Winter's Bone)

I've seen: All Nominees

My Pick: Last year I didn't do so hot picking the screenplay awards. I can't say as I have any more knowledge in the way of these categories this year, but I'm going to go with The Social Network here. Who knows just how true to events the movie really was, but the story was excellent as was the dialog. For a film that was once considered a front runner in just about every category, I think this is about as close to a lock as The Social Network has for taking home the prize.

Wieder has seen: The Social Network, True Grit, Winter's Bone

Wieder's Pick: 127 Hours and Toy Story 3, I didn't see. True Grit was a delightfully spare story, and apparently far truer to the original novel than the somewhat hammy original, which was designed as a John Wayne vehicle. Then again, that worked for him, and I worry that too many people remember that fondly. Oh, I so want to give this one to Winter's Bone. It is really it's best shot of the night, and a worthy contender. But, since it's an award that I don't truly know what the voters look at, I'll cheat a bit and take The Social Network because that's what all the projections say will happen.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Mike Leigh (Another Year), Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson; story by Keith Dorrington Paul Tamasy Eric Johnson (The Fighter), Christopher Nolan (Inception), Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right), David Seidler (The King's Speech)

I've seen: The Fighter, Inception, The King's Speech, part of The Kids Are All Right

My Pick: I can't speak for Another Year, but the rest of these films were excellent. I know that the Academy doesn't often use the 'such and such won this, this and this so another film/person should win here' logic, but for that reason, I'm picking Inception over the other nominees. I'm still trying to figure out how Christopher Nolan was passed over in the Best Director category. That was most likely the biggest snub of this year's awards. If Nolan can't be recognized in the Directing category, let him take home a statue here. You won't find a more imaginative and original script.

Wieder has seen: The Fighter, Inception, The King's Speech

Wieder's Pick: Haven't seen Another Year. And was not a fan of The Kids Are All Right. And I'm getting tired of picking between The Fighter and The King's Speech. So, since he got jobbed for a Best Director nomination, let's give Christopher Nolan the award for Best Original Screenplay for Inception.

Best Achievement in Directing: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David Fincher (The Social Network), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

I've seen: All nominees

My Pick: This is a tough category as far as I'm concerned. Not only have I seen all of the nominated films, but I really enjoyed all of them as well. As I mentioned before, I'm baffled as to how Christopher Nolan wasn't nominated in this category. However, I can't argue against any one of the six directors nominated. For this category, my pick comes from the earliest released film of the bunch: David Fincher for The Social Network.

Wieder has seen: All nominees

Wieder's Pick: Can I say that I am generally a Coen Brothers fan, but I wouldn't have nominated them with Christopher Nolan standing there with Inception? Sorry. So I remove them first. Darren Aronofsky has been making trippy movies for a while now, and I am happy to see him break through with a nomination, but I had a problem or two with Black Swan overall. Tom Hooper had a job to deal with the scenes with some not-quite-as-stuffy as you think British dialogue, but I don't feel like he needs this much credit. David O. Russell delivers a powerful story, but he had a lot of help. The Social Network has been racking up nominations, and I need to throw it a bone. Further, I can consider this my personal thank you to David Fincher for Seven and Fight Club, as well as use this opportunity to tell him that he BETTER not screw up the American remake of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, not that we needed it... *deep breath* let's move on before I have an aneurysm.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Amy Adams (The Fighter), Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

I've seen: The Fighter, The King's Speech, True Grit

My Pick: Ordinarily, I am generally of the opinion that two actors/actresses, teammates, co-workers, or what have you are nominated for the same award, they will end up splitting the vote and neither will win. But this year I'm not sure that holds true. I really enjoyed Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. It was a great showing from a newcomer, and even though she shared major screen time with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, you would have a hard time convincing me that her character Mattie Ross doesn't qualify as a leading role (she easily took over scenes including both Bridges and Damon on multiple occasions). If she were to win here I'd be happy, I just think that she's in the wrong category. Helena Bonham Carter was quite good as the loving and supportive wife in The King's Speech, but I think one of the two ladies from The Fighter will beat her out. Amy Adams' character was just as supportive and much fiercer than Carter's, but when it is all said and done, I think Melissa Leo takes this category. The emotion of her character along with the blindness that emotion caused as to what was best for her son was truly believable and frustrating as hell all at the same time.

Wieder has seen: The Fighter, The King's Speech, True Grit

Wieder's Pick: Maybe it's because I haven't seen the movie, or because it was the only nomination for the movie, but I'm dismissing Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom right off the bat. Next, though I have enjoyed Helena Bonham-Carter and admire her choices of eclectic movie roles, I don't think she will win, either. That leaves a three-way, which would be salacious if it didn't include a fourteen year-old girl. Ewww. Anyway, I'm wondering whether two nominated actresses from the same movie will open up just enough room for the newcomer. But I'm also irritated that the Academy shooed Hailee Steinfeld into this category anyway, when she's the freaking main character/narrator of True Grit. So, I can totally see her winning, but not gonna pick her. I will be honest, the whole Melissa Leo mini-scandal about her taking out ads does not influence this pick. I saw her build this momentum and lose it, but even when I saw the movie, I thought the go-to actress performance that captured the movie belonged to Amy Adams. The crush I developed on her during the movie might be influencing me here, but as The Fighter goes along, in my opinion Leo recedes while Adams ascends. And since you must ascend onto the stage to accept the award, my pick is Adams. Yeah, that was lame, wasn't it? *shrug* moving along...

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: 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)

I've seen: All nominees

My Pick: It's great to see John Hawkes get some recognition for his role in Winter's Bone. It's also nice to see Mark Ruffalo get a little love from the Academy. Can anyone honestly say they don't like that guy? Anyone who read my picks from last year (or spoke to me in person over the last year and a half) knows that I am a huge fan of The Hurt Locker, so I am pleased to see Jeremy Renner snag another nomination this year. It's good to see that he wasn't just a flash in the pan. Prior to seeing The King's Speech a month or so ago, I had pretty much already made up my mind in this category (before the actual nominations had been released). Geoffrey Rush made it a more difficult choice with his speech therapist role. But when I think back over the past year, the one role that really stands out to me is Christian Bale's turn as Dickey Eklund, crack addict, brother and trainer to boxing champion Mickey Ward. Say what you will about his grumbling as Batman, but this guy drops a sickly amount of weight for roles so well it is almost disturbing. And he put that ability to good use for The Fighter.

Wieder has seen: The Fighter, The King's Speech, The Town, Winter's Bone, part of The Kids Are All Right

Wieder's Pick: I honestly figured that Matt Damon would have nabbed a nom for True Grit, but this is already a tough choice for me, so perhaps it's better this way. Mark Ruffalo, I couldn't make it through your movie, sorry. Jeremy Renner has been coming on strong the last few years and is fine actor, but as the only major nod for The Town (how many Boston-area movies are they gonna make, geez), the nomination is the award for him. I LOVE that John Hawkes got a nomination here. Besides making me continue to miss Deadwood on HBO (*sigh*), it makes me think that the Academy is waking up a bit. Would this performance have ever gotten nominated 15-20 years ago? I think not. I walked out of the theater when I saw the film saying "it would be great if he got nominated." He can't win, though, not this year. Geoffrey Rush and Christian Bale are taking their films to another toe-to-toe fight in my eyes, and this time, the performance about boxing wins. Rush was sublime in The King's Speech, but Bale was excellent in The Fighter, disappearing into the role of Dicky Eklund. Plus, he also did the physical transformation thing to convincingly play a crack addict.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

I've seen: All nominees

My Pick: As far as I'm concerned, this category is responsible for the second biggest snubbing of this year's awards. Friends of mine know that this year's small/indie/foreign film that I talked up the most this year was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Due to the timing of its original release in Sweden it is not eligible in the foreign film category this year (it was released there in 2009, after Sweden's entry for last year's Oscars had already been named). As it was released here stateside in March of 2010, it was eligible for individual awards this year. You will not find a more powerful performance over the past year than that of Lisbeth Salander by Noomi Rapace. I am convinced that the fact that her film was released so early in the year kept it from truly being considered along with the more recent releases. Much like the directing category though, I can understand why the actresses nominated were. If it had been up to me, I would have given Rapace a nomination in this category over Nicole Kidman. This is an absolutely packed category this year but I think Natalie Portman takes home the statue for her ambitious turned paranoid ballerina in Black Swan. On a side note, seeing Jennifer Lawrence nominated for Winter's Bone was nice and well deserved.

Wieder has seen: Black Swan, Winter's Bone, part of The Kids Are All Right

Wieder's Pick: I have honestly have boycotted a couple of the lower-tier nominations in this category, not because Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams aren't fine actress who allegedly gave very good performances, but because the Academy is (soapbox alert, here I go!) MORONIC for not nominating Noomi Rapace for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Did you see this movie? If not, you missed out on what might be the best acting performance of the year, regardless of category, and I'm mildly disappointed in you. They can't tell me that it's because it was a foreign film, because they put one up in the Best Actor category. This is a LUDICROUS slight from these short-sighted, cliquish, you-scrub-my-back-and-I'll nominate-your-film-and-I'll-throw-in-a-blowjob Hollywood attitude that has me, well, mildly upset. Anyway, I very much enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone and while I have been a fan of Annette Bening for years, I didn't think this was her best work. Her nomination takes away from the performance of Julianne Moore, who I thought was just as good. This is Bening's 4th nomination, and she easily could have gotten others (The American President, in particular), so if this becomes one of those "career" awards, it wouldn't surprise me. However, I'll take Natalie Portman in Black Swan, because I've at least seen this one, and she's scary good. I might have said "wicked good" but this is still the South, as someone keeps forgetting. Anyway, The Academy seems to like actors who are willing to undergo significant physical changes. No, she didn't gain 30 pounds like DeNiro in Raging Bull, but it would have been hard to do any of that ballet dancing if she had, right?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), James Franco (127 Hours)

I've seen: True Grit, The Social Network, The King's Speech, 127 Hours

My Pick: If you had asked me at the beginning of winter who the front runner for this category was, I would have said Jesse Eisenberg hands down. That was before I saw The King's Speech. Colin Firth followed up last year's Best Actor nomination for A Single Man with an even more worthy portrayal of King George VI. Jeff Bridges, Eisenberg, and James Franco (who is a host at this year's awards) were all quite good. I have yet to see Biutiful but hope to sometime later in the week. I'm sure Bardem is worthy of the nomination but I have a hard time seeing a leading role from a foreign film beating out such a strong performance by Firth. In other years, all of these nominees might have a chance, but Firth is just head and shoulders above the pack.

Wieder has seen: The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit

Wieder's Pick: I'm hurting in this category, having seen only three of the performances, but I'll rationalize my way home here. James Franco, they let host the show. No way he wins. Javier Bardem, for a non-English film? A previous Oscar winner, a fine actor, but I'd like his chances better if Biutiful had gotten more nominations. Jeff Bridges just won last year, and I don't see a repeat coming here. Jesse Eisenberg has the best chance for an upset, but until this year he was getting more nominations for Teen Choice and MTV Movie awards than the big boys. Which brings me to this year's winner-to-be, Colin Firth. He's been delivering high-profile performances in Oscar-fare movies for at least 15 years (The English Patient, Shakespeare In Love, A Single Man, etc.). Plus, he's peripherally attached to the Blackadder series, and that's enough for me.

Best Motion Picture of the Year: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone

I've seen: All nominees

My Pick: This is the second year that the Academy has used the expanded nominee list in the Best Picture category. It is also the second time ever that I have seen all of the nominees. When the nominees were announced, I was surprised to see that all ten in this category were all films that I actually had a desire to see. Last year I had to struggle through a couple just to be able to say that I had the whole category covered. Not only did I want to see all of these nominees, I enjoyed all of them - with the exception of a few minutes worth of 127 Hours, I've never felt so sick watching a movie before in my life. Even though I liked all of these films, the choice isn't very difficult. The big winner this year is The King's Speech. What's that? Those of you that read my blog are saying 'but Tim, what about your favorite movie of 2010????'. Well, Inception was my favorite film of the year, however, I realize that just because I enjoyed it the most doesn't mean that it is the best film. The Social Network has been a front runner along with The King's Speech throughout awards season, and gets a nice shout out as the runner up in my book. The King's Speech is just too strong this year. It's a great, inspiring, heartwarming story that just so happens to include three of the best performances of the year.

Wieder has seen: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit, Winter's Bone, part of The Kids Are All Right

Wieder's pick: I don't know if moving to 10 films helps or hurts the Oscars, honestly. It is nice to take films from genres that were previously overlooked repeatedly (like animated films, so welcome to the longer short list, Toy Story 3), but when you know they have no shot at winning, what's the point? If there is a big bonus, it's that a small, powerful movie like Winter's Bone can find itself discussed and drawing attention to itself. It was the first of this group I saw, and I'd love to say that I think it will win. But, no. I didn't make the 2 hours to see 127 Hours, so that can't be a good sign. The Kids Are All Right, I tried to get into, but couldn't get through it. So no vote there. The Social Network was an interesting movie, but I only got around to seeing it this week. That only impacts my choice inasmuch as if I didn't want to see a movie about Facebook, as much as I read Tim's posts on Facebook, there must be something to my decision. Black Swan, a nice head-trip of a film about the madness of brilliance, or maybe the other way around, but not rich enough. True Grit, a pleasant surprise of a remake, but not gonna get there. When I saw Inception in the theater, I was blown away by the visuals, and not slowed down by the story. That's hardly a great endorsement, so we move to the two I had to chose between. I thought The Fighter was great, with excellent performances from all the lead actors, a gritty tale of real-life triumph. I thought The King's Speech was great, with excellent performances from all the lead actors, an elegant tale of real-life triumph. You'd like to think that someone beating the crap out of someone is more powerful than learning to talk without stuttering, but it was a British king during WWII. The Academy loves its period piece dramas, British accents over Bahston accents, and gave The King's Speech more nominations than any other movie this year. It's the pick.

So there are our picks. It looks like we pretty much agree (I won't argue with anyone trying to give Amy Adams an Oscar as I share Wieder's admiration of her), and what do you know? We did have similar rants in a couple of the categories (but seriously, go watch The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and tell me Noomi Rapace didn't deserve a nomination). It'll be interesting to see how well we picked. Who would you pick for this year's awards?


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