It’s definitely a little later in the game than usual for the Oscar Warrior to share his picks and predictions for the movies and performances the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) are likely to honor at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards. Having already written quite a bit for our preview, we’ll try to keep things simpler and not repeat too much of what’s already out there.
At this point, most of the critics groups have picked their winners including the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critics Choice Awards) and the Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globes), and we’re just few weeks away from the Oscar nominations. While we do have a much clearer picture of how things might play out than we did a few weeks back, there’s always room for surprises, and hopefully we’ll get a couple this year.
We’ve included all the precursor awards and nominations where applicable and factored them into the equation, bearing in mind that the Academy has often gone against tradition and the critics, nominating things they enjoyed which didn’t necessarily get early awards season attention. Bear in mind that “My Picks” are the ones I’d like to see considered even though none of them probably have very much of a chance this late in the race.
HFPA = Hollywood Foreign Press Association
BFCA = Broadcast Film Critics Association
NBR = National Board of Review
SAG = Screen Actors Guild
PGA = Producers Guild of America
WGA = Writers Guild of America
DGA = Directors Guild of America
NYFCC = New York Film Critics Circle
LAFCC = L.A. Film Critics Circle
NSFC = National Society of Film Critics
At this point, there aren’t too many questions in this category as far as the nominations. The names mentioned over the past month and a half so far have remained fairly constant, so the real question is who might actually win?
This year’s Oscar race for Best Actor has been different in that it hasn’t been dominated for months by one name as in year’s past when performances by Jamie Foxx or Philip Seymour Hoffman or Forrest Whitaker were #1 from beginning to end, each of them playing famous people from history. No, this year, it’s all about performances by veteran actors playing fictional characters who also happened to appear in a movie together just a few months back.
George Clooney’s performance as frequent flyer and professional corporate sacker Ryan Bingham in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air (Paramount) has gotten as many accolades as he did for Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton a few years back and the Academy loves him enough to give him more support, but it’s Jeff Bridges as a down-and-out alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight) that came from out of nowhere a few months back and has impressed everyone who has already seen it. Bridges already won a number of critics awards including the Broadcast Film Critics and the Golden Globes in drama, both solid Oscar precursors. Also worth considering is that Clooney has already won an Oscar for his supporting role in Syriana and Bridges hasn’t after four previous nominations going back to 1972. It seems long past time that the Academy give Bridges his due and his performance is solid enough that the members won’t have trouble backing that decision.
The only actor who has received a similar level of universal praise for a role or performance is Colin Firth as a closeted gay college professor mourning his dead lover in Tom Ford’s A Single Man (Weinstein Co.), which took the top acting prize at the Venice Film Festival and has received nominations in the three primary precursors. So far, Firth has only achieved runner-up from the L.A. Film Critics and unless he pulls a surprise win at SAG, he’ll be getting a well-deserved nomination, his first, but doesn’t stand much of a chance at winning.
For many months last year, it was thought that Morgan Freeman would be a shoe-in to win his second Oscar for his performance as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus (Warner Bros.), but the movie just hasn’t gotten the support either among the critics or the general populace, so what is a perfectly fine performance is likely to get nominated but stands no chance of winning.
Clearly, one of the reasons why so many people love Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, thought by some to be the frontrunner for Best Picture, is the performance by Jeremy Renner as a hotshot bomb squad sergeant. If the movie is going to get any attention for the acting among all of its other nominations, then Renner is definitely it.
Possible Upset Nominations:
Chances are the five above will get in, because the leading actor category rarely deviates too much once the earlier groups announce their nominations.
That said, there are a few other names to keep in mind, the first of them being previous winner (and multiple nominee) Daniel Day Lewis for his performance in Rob Marshall’s Nine (Weinstein Co.), who received a Golden Globe nomination, as did Tobey Maguire for Jim Sheridan’s Brothers and Michael Stuhlbarg for the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man (Focus Features). If one of the above was able to win their category at the Golden Globes, they might have been taken more seriously for a nomination. Likewise, Viggo Mortensen was one of six nominees by the Broadcast Film Critics for his performance in The Road (Dimension Films), but the movie has been mostly ignored during awards season. Of those four movies, only A Serious Man has been getting any serious awards buzz, but they would probably need to win something before Oscar voters start paying attention.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes: Drama Bridges (other nominees: Clooney, Firth, Freeman, Maguire); Musical/Comedy Downey Jr. for Sherlock Holmes (Damon, Day-Lewis, Gordon-Levitt, Stuhlbarg)
BFCA/Critics Choice: Bridges (other nominees: Clooney, Firth, Freeman, Renner, Mortensen)
SAG: Bridges, Clooney, Firth, Freeman, Renner
LAFCC: Bridges (runner up: Firth)
NBR: Freeman and Clooney (tie)
My Pick(s): Tom Hardy for Bronson and Nicolas Cage for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – Sometimes acting completely nuts can deliver some hugely entertaining performances, and that was clearly the case with these two breakout roles. For Tom Hardy, playing Britain’s most dangerous prisoner Charlie Bronson in Nicolas Refn’s stylish “comedy” meant playing a very different role from what he has done in the past, and playing a drug-addled police officer in Werner Herzog’s crime flick let Nicolas Cage let loose with one of his wildest performances since Vampire’s Kiss. Both actors delivered really groundbreaking work in these movies, and it’s a shame that both of them have mostly been ignored during awards season except from the most discerning critics.
Predictions: Jeff Bridges (winner), George Clooney, Colin Firth, Morgan Freeman and Jeremy Renner
Just like the past few years, there’s a bunch of actresses who have been mentioned throughout the year and a couple who have started to pull ahead.
It’s getting ridiculous how much we end up writing about Meryl Streep and her chances at winning another Oscar every year, but just like last year, she’s once again being taken seriously as a possibility to win, this time with her performance as Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia (Sony). It’s not a particularly dramatic role compared to Doubt or The Hours, but people love her more comedic roles, and she has the benefit of playing a real person, in this case the legendary French Chef. Streep has already won a number of prominent critics awards and the Golden Globe in the comedy category, and considering how long it’s been since she won an Oscar, it’s hard to believe any of the young actresses in consideration stand much of a chance. That is, except for…
The Season’s Biggest Surprise:
The only thing that might keep Streep from winning this year is the runaway phenomena that is Sandra Bullock’s performance in the “low-key” football drama The Blind Side (Warner Bros.), which has been a huge word-of-mouth hit, having grossed over $200 million. Like with Julie & Julia, most of the love for the movie comes from Bullock’s performance and in this case, that she’s doing something entirely different from her norm. Like Streep, she’s also playing a real person, even if Leigh Anne Tuohy is not nearly as well known as Julia Child, which puts her at a slight disadvantage to win. To make things more interesting, Bullock won the other Golden Globe for lead actress in the dramatic category, and the Broadcast Film Critics called it a tie between Streep and Bullock. That is eerily similar to last year when Streep tied with Anne Hathaway but then both of them lost to Kate Winslet at the Oscars. Could the support for both actresses cancel them both out again? Who the Screen Actors Guild picks this weekend will make the only real difference and they’re just as likely to go with one of the newer actresses below.
On Their Heels:
Two fairly young actresses that both critics and audiences have been swooning over for most of 2009, ever since their movies debuted at Sundance in fact, are Carey Mulligan for An Education (Sony Classics) and first-time actress Gabourey Sidibe in Lee Daniel’s Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Lionsgate), two very different coming-of-age films. Mulligan has generally gotten more attention from the critics, but both actresses won’t have a problem getting in to the race due to the Academy’s well-regarded desire to promote young ingénues, as seen by the nominations for Catalina Sandino Moreno and Keisha Castle-Hughes. Like both of those actresses, Carey and Gabby might have a hard time winning against two of Hollywood’s most successful leading ladies, but plenty of younger first-timers have won in the past, including Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry and La Vie en Rose star Marion Cotillard a few years back. There’s also the very real possibility of Oscar voters splitting their vote between Streep and Bullock, allowing an actress like Mulligan to win with support from those who don’t think either performance/movie is Oscar-worthy.
Honored to be Nominated:
So that basically leaves one spot open and a whole slew of actresses worthy of getting that nomination. The actress nominated by the Screen Actors Guild was Helen Mirren for her role as the Countess Sofya Tolstoy in Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station, and it’s certainly a fine emotional performance, which also received a Golden Globe nomination. The question is whether it’s Mirren’s best performance or if she’s just becoming like Streep where she’ll get nominated for anything she does, especially after having just won an Oscar a few years back for The Queen. Similarly, Marion Cotillard might have been one of the best things going for Rob Marshall’s Nine (Weinstein Co.) and she got a Golden Globe nomination for it, but she also won an Oscar in this category just a few years back.
If Mulligan and Sidibe aren’t enough to fulfill the Academy’s desire to promote young talent, they also have their choice of Abbie Cornish from Bright Star (Apparition) or Emily Blunt as The Young Victoria (Apparition), both of whom are playing real characters. Blunt has a slight advantage there being that she’s playing a queen, an occupation that has helped the likes of Mirren, Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench get nominated in the past. We think that Blunt has the best chance at replacing Mirren.
Irish actress Saorsie Ronan received a Critics Choice nomination for Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones (Paramount) but got a consolation prize as “Best Young Actress,” while being ignored by SAG and the Golden Globes. French actress Yolande Moreau, the star of the biopic Seraphine received a number of critics awards for her performance, but it’s doubtful enough of the Academy’s acting division have seen it to even consider it.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes: Drama Bullock (other noms: Blunt, Mirren, Mulligan, Sidibe); Comedy/Musical Streep for Julie & Julia (other noms: Bullock (The Proposal), Cotillard, Julia Roberts (Duplicity), Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated)
BFCA/Critics Choice: Streep and Bullcok (tie) (other nominees: Blunt, Mulligan, Ronan, Sidibe)
SAG: Bullock, Mirren, Mulligan, Sidibe, Streep
LAFCC: Yoland Moreau for Seraphine (runner up: Mulligan)
My Picks: Catalina Saavedra for The Maid and Sasha Grey for The Girlfriend Experience – Two amazing performances from actresses who most moviegoers will be seeing for the first time. Saavedra is the Chilean actress who won over Sundance audiences with her performance in Sebastian Silva’s indie dramedy about a competitive house maid, and porn star Sasha Grey was able to carry Steven Soderbergh’s latest low-budget film with a rich performance one would expect from a far more experienced actress. Sadly, Saavedra’s only nod to date was winning a Gotham Award.
Predictions: Emily Blunt, Sandra Bullock, Carey Mulligan, Gabourney Sidibe, Meryl Streep (winner)
This potentially could be the most interesting category on Oscar night if things go the way we think they might.
Back in April, who thought a little-known Austrian actor named Christoph Waltz might be leading the Oscar supporting actor race for his performance as a sadistic SS agent in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (Weinstein Co.)? No one, that’s who, but since the movie debuted at Cannes and then became one of Tarantino’s biggest opening movies last August, that name has been on everyone’s lips, especially the critics who have been almost unanimous for their praise of his standout role in this wildly original movie. Although he’s mostly unknown on these shores, his age and wealth of experience comes through in his performance, and Waltz’s recent win at the Golden Globes is a good sign he’ll continue his run through awards season right up until Oscar night. Right now, it’s all up to the Screen Actors Guild to cement that win; if they go with anyone else in this category, then so will the Academy. (Waltz’s Golden Globes speech was terrific, though, and the guy clearly has charisma and personality that will help him greatly in the last 45 days leading up to Oscar night.)
Who He Might Lose To:
Yeah, you read that right. Waltz is in the same position as Thomas Haden Church when he was winning every critics’ award before losing at the Golden Globes and Oscars to Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman respectively, as well as with Eddie Murphy who didn’t win for Dreamgirls a few years ago when the Academy decided to honor Alan Arkin for a lesser role instead. (If you haven’t figured out that the Oscars are very much a popularity contest by now, then this category should prove it.)
The Academy has often ignored the frontrunner in this category in favor of actors who have long been deserving of recognition, whether it was James Coburn for Affliction, Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules, Jim Broadbent for Iris, or the supporting actor wins for Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, none of whom was getting much award attention before winning the Oscar in this category. In the past few years, the Academy has not given this award to new faces or names in breakout roles, something changed in the last decade when Cuba Gooding Jr. and Benicio del Toro both disproved that trend with wins early in their careers. Gooding and last year’s winner, the late Heath Ledger, were two of the youngest winners in this category, because more often than not, it has been awarded to an older actor.
Woody Harrelson’s performance as a soldier informing the families of dead soldiers in Oren Moverman’s The Messenger (Oscilloscope Labs) has been getting a lot of attention, including nominations by all the important groups, and this would be a great role for the Academy to finally honor Harrelson after years of hard work, having only been nominated once before for The People vs. Larry Flynt. If anyone in the Academy feels Harrelson is long past due for an Oscar, then this could be his year.
But then you have the case of 80-year-old Christopher Plummer, a hugely respected veteran actor who has NEVER been nominated for an Oscar, and his performance as Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station is another one where he knocks it out of the park and into the next county. We think that the older members of the Academy are likely to love this movie, as well as any members of the Academy who’ve worked with Plummer over his many years, and he does have the benefit of having a lead role that’s been conveniently put in the supporting category, which has helped plenty of others win here, including George Clooney for Syriana. If there’s going to be any Oscar night surprise then it will be Plummer’s name being called over Waltz’s.
Filling in the Blanks:
The one good thing to come out of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones (Paramount), which actually did decent business this past weekend in wide release, is the performance by Stanley Tucci, playing against type as a creepy neighbor responsible for the death of many young girls. It is such a departure for the actor who has become known for playing nice guys, often opposite Meryl Streep, and it’s the movie’s best chance for attention.
Matt Damon’s performance in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus (Warner Bros.) hasn’t exactly blown anyone away, but he’s been nominated by most of the early groups, just to show what a weak category this is. Damon might be coasting into this category based solely on the star power, but surely, the Academy will move past that, right?
We expect this category to have at least one surprise, and that’s likely to be Damon replaced by one of the following:
Christian McKay’s performance as Orson Welles in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles has impressed anyone who has seen the movie, because no one expected a performance by an unknown Scottish actor to steal the movie from its star, Zac Efron.
Alfred Molina brings a lot in his role as a supportive but misguided father in An Education, and sadly, he hasn’t gotten a lot of attention anywhere except the Critics’ Choice. He’s a well-liked actor and those who appreciate this movie should want to give his performance attention as well.
There’s a slight possibility that Anthony Mackie could get a nomination for The Hurt Locker if there’s a last minute surge with the movie being released on DVD and already winning enough awards to get it attention.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes: Waltz (other noms: Damon, Harrelson, Plumer, Tucci)
BFCA/Critics Choice: Waltz (other noms: Damon, Harrelson, McKay, Molina, Tucci)
SAG: Damon, Harrelson, Plummer, Tucci, Waltz
LAFCC: Waltz (runner up: Capaldi)
NSFC: Schneider and Waltz
My Picks: Peter Capaldi’s hilarious performance as a foul-mouthed Scottish minister in Armando Ianucci’s In the Loop (IFC Films) is one of the most memorable ones this year, and it would be great if enough Oscar voters shared that opinion, but sadly, Capaldi may be an actor that movie fans will have to discover on their own. Similarly, Paul Schneider brings a lot to Jane Campion’s Bright Star, as John Keats’ friend and benefactor. It’s a surprisingly dramatic performance from the normally comedic actor.
Predictions: Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Plummer (winner!!), Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz (alternate: Alfred Molina)
Unfortunately this has often been the category where there aren’t any surprises in the nominations and only once in a while do things take a drastic shift in the last few weeks leading up to Oscars. This isn’t one of those years.
There’s little question that comedienne and talk show host Mo’nique is well in the lead for her shocking performance as an abusive mother in Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Lionsgate), similar to where Jennifer Hudson was a few years ago because there’s no denying she gives a performance that leaves the most lasting impression for anyone who sees the movie. It’s a tough role and some think that her decision not to take part in the normal gladhanding and appearances might hurt her chances, but in fact, most of the industry people will probably appreciate that even more. The Academy does its best to try to honor what they feel is the best performance.
Nipping At Her Heels:
While Mo’Nique can probably relax being so far ahead of the rest of the pack, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air features two great supporting performances by Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. Even so, one has to assume that anyone who likes the movie will be picking one or the other, effectively splitting the votes. Although Kendrick has been doing the rounds more than Farmiga, it’s doubtful either will have enough support with so much of the movie’s focus being on George Clooney.
That leaves two slots open and a number of talented actresses including Penelope Cruz, whose win in this category last year might make it harder for her to get in for Nine. Julianne Moore is also a past Oscar nominee, but her supporting role in Tom Ford’s A Single Man (Weinstein Co.) as Colin Firth’s boozed-up best friend seems very much like a return to serious dramatic acting.
One of the better bets is Samantha Morton and her performance as an army widow in The Messenger, which is already being seen by Academy members for them to nominate Woody Harrelson.
A few longer shots include Maggie Gyllenhaal’s supporting role as the love interest in Crazy Heart and Diane Kruger’s performance as an undercover actress in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Of the five women mentioned above, Kruger and Cruz received SAG nominations, which one would expect could carry them over to the Oscars, except that Nine seems to be suffering from a backlash and Kruger has been well overshadowed by Christoph Waltz’s performance. Despite being ignored by SAG, Moore should take back one slot and we expect Morton to get a long-deserved nomination for her performance in a movie that’s been gaining ground since those other groups’ nominations were announced.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes: Mo’Nique (other noms: Cruz, Farmiga, Kendrick, Julianne Moore)
BFCA/Critics Choice: Mo’Nique (other noms: Cotillard, Kendrick, Farmiga, Moore)
SAG: Cruz, Farmiga, Kendrick, Kruger, Mo’Nique
LAFCC: Mo’Nique (runner up: Kendrick)
My Pick: I’m fine with all of the choices, but I do hope the Academy will give Maggie Gyllenhaal some credit for what she brings to Crazy Heart.
Predictions: Mo’Nique (winner), Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga, Julianne Moore, Samantha Morton (alts: Penelope Cruz, Maggie Gyllenhaal)
The Screen Actors Guild will announce their winners on Saturday January 23, and then the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will announce the Oscar nominations on Tuesday, February 2, and then present the winners at their annual awards ceremony on March 7. Check back later this week for Part 2, dealing with screenplay, director and the Best Picture race.