Last year’s Oscar ceremony was, quite simply, about as boring as an award ceremony can get. The winner of every major award was set in stone long before the awards were handed out, and most of the time it had more to do with pure, unadulterated hype than genuine talent.
Of course, that’s not exactly shocking for the Oscars, but it’s painfully dull to see Sandra Bullock get an award for her politcally correct nice-white-lady role in “The Blind Side,” or to see Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial win get treated like the most monumental American achievement since womens’ suffrage.
This year’s ceremony is shaping up to have more of the ol’ competitive spirit. Hardly any major award seems completely locked, and even some that do have dark horse candidates with more than a small chance. Even the Best Picture race is finally, you know, a race. Here are my thoughts on the major categories:
Nominees: “127 Hours,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone.”
Could the rarest of phenomena actually happen, in which the Best Picture Oscar goes to the year’s best film? “The Social Network” has been a critical zeitgeist since the day it was released — it was the best reviewed film of 2010, swept almost every major city’s critics’ awards, and (for what it’s worth) also scored at the Golden Globes.
Not only that, but — get this — the hype is actually deserved. “The Social Network” is a brilliant time capsule for our generation and beyond — an instant classic in the truest sense.
“The King’s Speech” has recently been gaining momentum, nabbing some high profile guild awards. As much as I enjoyed that movie, I would hate to see it win. It’s a perfectly enjoyable film, but it would have been a perfectly enjoyable film any year. “The Social Network” is a truly unique product of its time — as such, it deserves honor at the right moment.
Nominees: Javier Bardem in “Biutfiul,” Jeff Bridges in “True Grit,” Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network,” Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech” and James Franco in “127 Hours.”
See, this is why you award people at the right time. Firth deserved this honor last year, for his mournful performance in “A Single Man,” but he lost thanks to good PR that said it was Bridges’ time (great actor, wrong performance). This year, the PR machine is in Firth’s corner because — you guessed it — he’s the “ignored veteran” now. Which is not to discredit his performance in “The King’s Speech” at all — it’s one of his finest, and if he gets his very-much-expected win, that’s cool.
But the year’s greatest performance actually comes from a 27-year-old actor who has previously starred mostly in teen comedies. Eisenberg’s interpretation of Mark Zuckerberg beats any other 2010 performance for sheer emotional depth. Zuckerberg at once seems despicable and sympathetic, heartless and forlorn — true to the movie’s interpretive structure, it’s a masterful challenge to pin down what’s going through this character’s head.
Nominees: Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right,” Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole,” Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone,” Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” and Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine.”
In “Black Swan,” it doesn’t feel like Portman is acting so much as going to hell and back. As Nina, a timid ballet dancer under pressure for her first leading role in “Swan Lake,” Portman is almost physically exhausting to watch, and that’s what makes her so unforgettable.
Even if “Black Swan” itself is a histrionic freakshow, its leading lady — in all her naïve, intense and rather well-choreographed delirium — is a startling experience on her own. In another year, Williams might have stood a chance — her role in “Blue Valentine” is similarly devastating on a more subtle level. But not this time.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale in “The Fighter,” John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone,” Jeremy Renner in “The Town,” Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right,” and Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech.”
Same shit, different year and slightly different circumstances. For the past three years, the Best Supporting Actor award was locked long before the ceremony. In those cases, it went to an actor portraying an instantly iconic villain. This year, villainy is out and drug addiction is back in — oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Bale has won everything winnable for his portrayal of Dicky Eklund, a once-great boxer turned crack addict. At this point, he’s got it. Personally, I never saw anything in “The Fighter” except Bale pushing himself into struggling addict mode — his Batman voice was easier to buy. I’d prefer to see Rush, whose sly humor and obscured insecurities feel much more natural, pull off a surprise. And who knows how things would have turned out if all the supporting players in “The Social Network” didn’t get screwed over.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Amy Adams in “The Fighter,” Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech,” Melissa Leo in “The Fighter,” Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit,” and Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom.”
Steinfeld — who handles the Coens’ film so perfectly it’s like she was genetically engineered for their twisted world — has been unfairly represented even before “True Grit.”. She’s not even mentioned on the film’s poster — unlike Josh Brolin, whose on screen for all of about five minutes — and now her protagonist role is apparently a “supporting” one. I guess the one advantage to that is it gives her a better chance of winning, but it’s Leo’s award to lose, since she’s also got an “ignored” history. Still, at her age, Steinfeld’s got time to dominate plenty of other great films.
Nominees: Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” Ethan and Joel Coen for “True Grit,” David Fincher for “The Social Network,” Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech” and David O. Russell for “The Fighter.”
Whether or not “The Social Network” prevails, no one can touch Fincher in this category. For months, there was curiosity over what the hell the genius behind “Fight Club” and “Zodiac” was doing in making “the Facebook movie.” He ended up demolishing all expectations, making the supposed “gimmick” movie into a brilliantly structured story for the ages.
The only other thing worth noting in this category is a major sin of omission: two years after failing to get the slightest recognition for “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” mastermind Christopher Nolan again has to sit this award out. Whether or not you believe Nolan to be the “next Kubrick” or the “next Hitchcock” as far as talent goes, he’s starting to seem that way in terms of Oscar credit.
Silverstein is a member of the class of 2013.