It’s difficult to find a director who has more industry respect and credibility than Martin Scorsese. He received his due from the Academy back in 2006 for his work on The Departed. But as is evidenced by Meryl Streep’s now annual nominations, the Academy loves their living legends. With such an obviously personal project as Hugo, it seems they will not be able to resist giving him the Oscar. However, they ought to hand it to Alexander Payne, a soon-to-be legend himself. Responsible for such modern gems as Sideways and Election, The Descendants finally represents the culmination of Payne’s powers for thoughtful, immersive drama.
Hollywood’s most enduring heartthrobs, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, both turn up in the best actor crop this season. While the latter is nominated for Moneyball, I feel he turned in a stronger (both figuratively and literally) performance in The Tree of Life. Despite America’s love for them however, Jean Dujardin will deservedly walk away with this year’s prize. As an actor, this metafictional role as an early film superstar in The Artist must be a gold mine, and Dujardin takes full advantage. His immense charm and virtuosity are undeniable, making it exceptionally gratifying to root for the hero.
Much of the press around this category concerns a couple of perceived nomination snubs. While I missed the much-lauded breakout performance from the Olsen twins’ younger sister, Elizabeth Olsen, in Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, Tilda Swinton’s turn as the mother of a sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin was indeed haunting, if a narrow use of the actor’s talents. Glenn Close, a Hollywood stalwart and actor’s actor, is my choice for becoming completely immersed in her tragic genderbending title role as Albert Nobbs. Still, Viola Davis will likely be the winner for her appearance in the bestseller adaptation The Help.
Best Screenplay (Adapted):
Consider the factors: last year’s win for his razor-sharp script of The Social Network; being one of the most agile and consistent scribes in Hollywood; working on a script that got a pass from Steve Zaillian (remember Schindler’s List? Mission: Impossible?). How could Aaron Sorkin, co-writer of Moneyball walk away empty-handed? Well, being second in line for best picture, The Descendants would be hard pressed to miss the writing award (and rightfully so), leaving Sorkin cold. Besides, Jim Rash, who plays the Dean on NBC’s Community, is a co-writer, and who doesn’t want to see him win an Oscar?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a silent black and white film, The Artist, is most likely to win Best Picture. As a throwback to the silent era of Hollywood, the film’s pretty much tailor made to please the old white middle class people of the Academy, even if it was made by the French. But if it were in my hands, I would give the award to Pedro Almodovar’s gloriously twisted mad scientist thriller The Skin I Live In, which isn’t close to being in the running, probably because it seems tailor made to piss off people who would consider themselves “cultured.”
Credit is due to Michel Hazanavicius, the Director of The Artist, for conceiving, crafting, and putting together a silent slapstick romantic comedy like The Artist in the year 2011 is a very impressive feat, and making sure the film moves along at a clip and never stumbles into any tempting moments of self-importance is equally applause-worthy. In return, Hazanavicius will likely win the Best Director award. However, if I were giving out the award, I would give it to Terrence Malick whose singular vision as a filmmaker has rarely been better realized than in this year’s The Tree of Life.
Viola Davis recieved her last Oscar nomination for one powerhouse scene in Doubt that ran approximately ten minutes. In The Help, she gets an entire feature to shine, and she is about as strong in that role as the well meaning (but hackneyed) screenplay allows. Davis is capable of great things in the right films, but The Help is not it. Regardless, it is a highly accessible film with a lot of fans, and Davis will most likely take the little man home (unless Meryl Streep has anything to say about it). If I had my way, I would give the award Kirsten Dunst for her eye-opening performance in Melancholia.
Jean Dujardin’s performance as a fallen silent film star is extremely charming, and his cutesy interactions with dog star Uggie are bound to gain a few votes. George Clooney also has a chance at winning for his his restrained but highly moving performance in The Descendants, but this being the Academy, I will err on the side of a broadly pleasing showbiz performance over that of a sardonic Alexander Payne-penned character. If I had my way, I’d give the gold dude to Michael Fassbender for his brutal depiction of sexual addiction in Shame.
Best Screenplay (Original)
I highly doubt even Woody Allen’s staunchest fans ever expected him to win another Oscar during his rough patch in the early 00s, but it looks likely that--even if he doesn’t show up to the ceremony--he will win at least one more Academy Award for Midnight in Paris (his 15th nomination), if only because every other nominee reeks of tokenism (The silent film! The foreign film! The gross out comedy! The cool indie that got snubbed in every other field!). If I had my way, I’d give the award to Iranian writer and director Asghar Farhadi for A Separation due to his extremely affecting portrayal of a divorce gone awry in contemporary Tehran.