A delightful silent film shot in stunning black and white and the moving saga of African-American maids in the Deep South particularly attracted the 6,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who determined nominees for the 84th annual Academy Awards. “Hugo” leads the pack with 11 nominations, but faces stiff competition from “The Artist,” a frontrunner on the verge of a sweep. Equally noteworthy is the best adapted screenplay category which has local ties thanks to “The Ides of March,” co-written by Beau Willimon, George Clooney and Grant Heslov based on Willimon’s fantastic political drama “Farragut North,” the winner of the 2005 Dayton Playhouse FutureFest.
As always, anything is possible when winners will be revealed Sunday, February 26 at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles. I’m especially anticipating the overdue return of host Billy Crystal and his signature musical medley of Best Picture nominees. Here are my predictions in the top six categories.
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
“Midnight in Paris”
“The Tree of Life”
Overlooked: “50/50”; “A Better Life”; “Beginners”; “Bridesmaids,”; “The Conspirator”; “Contagion”; “Drive”; “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”; “The Ides of March”; “Like Crazy”; ”Margin Call”; “Melancholia”; “Super 8”; “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”; “Warrior”; “Weekend”;“Win Win”
Will Win: “The Artist”
Should Win/Shocker: “The Help”
I’m still a fan of the Academy’s long-standing tradition of placing five nominees here. Bloating the category to nine still feels excessive. At any rate, “The Artist,” an enjoyable French import saluting bygone Hollywood and the magic of movies, is the clear favorite in the minds of prognosticators and art house aficionados. However, it lacks the gravitas traditionally associated with Best Picture recipients and a compelling emotional center. Did anyone watch “The Artist” and feel a sense of connection? In the scheme of things, it’s important not to underestimate “The Help,” an inherently impactful American tale of triumph in the face of adversity, culturally and financially. Tate Taylor’s wonderfully engrossing adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller, the only nominee the majority of America has seen, grossed $170 million. It also sparked a national discussion on civil rights and race relations, fueling the film’s thought-provoking significance in the Obama era. Due to its 10 nominations and critical acclaim, “The Artist” will likely become the second silent Best Picture winner in Oscar history, but I’m hoping “The Help” defies the odds to become the first film since 1932’s “Grand Hotel” to win Best Picture without nominations for direction or screenplay.
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Michel Hazavanicious, “The Artist”
Terrence Malik, “The Tree of Life”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Martin Scorcese, “Hugo”
Overlooked: J.J. Abrams, “Super 8”; Thomas Alfredson, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”; George Clooney, “The Ides of March”; Stephen Daldry, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”; Drake Doremus, “Like Crazy”; David Fincher, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; Bennett Miller, “Moneyball”; Mike Mills, “Beginners”; Robert Redford, “The Conspirator”; Nicolas Winding Refn, “Drive”; Steven Soderbergh, “Contagion”; Tate Taylor, “The Help”; Lars von Trier, “Melancholia”; Chris Weitz, “A Better Life”; David Yates, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2”
Will/Should Win: Hazavanicious
You can never discount Malik, especially when his exquisite yet polarizing “Tree of Life” gained enough support to be nominated for Best Picture over more commercial fare. Scorcese’s contributions are among his finest, but Hazavanicious skillfully resurrected a forgotten genre with intelligence, flair and whimsy.
Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
Overlooked: Antonio Banderas, “The Skin I Live In”; Asa Butterfield, “Hugo”; Dominic Cooper, “The Devil’s Double”; Daniel Craig, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; Tom Cullen, “Weekend”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”; Joel Edgerton, “Warrior”; Michael Fassbender, “A Dangerous Method” and “Shame”; Paul Giamatti, “Win Win”; Ryan Gosling, “Drive” and “The Ides of March”; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “50/50”; Tom Hardy, “Warrior”; Woody Harrelson, “Rampart”; Thomas Horn, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”; Jeremy Irvine, “War Horse”; James McAvoy, “The Conspirator”; Ewan McGregor, “Beginners”; Chris New,
“Weekend”; Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”; Jim Sturgess, “One Day”; Anton Yelchin, “Like Crazy”
Will/Should Win: Dujardin
Two months ago Clooney seemed unstoppable in his quest for a second Oscar. But as silent film star George Valentin, the incredibly expressive and charismatic Dujardin, attacking the Oscar campaign trail with a foreign charm not seen since Roberto Begnini (“Life is Beautiful”), including a visit to “Saturday Night Live,” scooped up precursor victories from the Screen Actors Guild and British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Although Clooney and Pitt delivered solid portrayals and the superbly understated Bichir could have a last-minute surge, Dujardin is a safe bet, particularly when his exceptionally detailed, Douglas Fairbanks-inspired performance wholeheartedly carries the believability of his film.
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
Overlooked: Kirsten Dunst, “Melancholia”; Vera Farmiga, “Higher Ground”; Anne Hathaway, “One Day”; Felicity Jones, “Like Crazy”; Adepero Oduye, “Pariah”; Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”; Emma Stone, “The Help”; Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”; Charlize Theron, “Young Adult”; Mia Wasikowska, “Jane Eyre”; Rachel Weisz, “The Whistleblower”; Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids”; Robin Wright, “The Conspirator”
Will/Should Win: Davis
The heated battle between Davis and Streep isn’t necessarily a nail-biter. Davis is in a Best Picture nominee. Davis has never won an Oscar. Davis received a standing ovation at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Davis is on the brink of becoming only the second African-American to prevail in this category. Two-time winner Streep, whose excellent embodiment of Margaret Thatcher wasn’t enough to salvage her disjointed film, will undoubtedly return here again and again. In fact, she’ll probably be a serious frontrunner in 2014 for “August: Osage County.” It’s simply time for someone else to bask in the Oscar spotlight. Williams, slowly becoming an Oscar darling, could benefit from vote-splitting among her chief rivals, but expect the Academy to follow SAG and rally behind Davis’ phenomenally complex mix of introverted intensity and heartbreaking emotion as Aibileen Clark. If you’re not sure, just reflect upon “The Help’s” dramatic final minutes. Davis’ knockout confrontation with Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook) and tear-jerking farewell opposite Eleanor Henry (Mae Mobley) is the stuff Oscars are made of. Does Streep compare? Not this year.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branaugh, “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Max von Sydow,” Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Overlooked: Niels Arestrup, “War Horse”; Jim Broadbent, “The Iron Lady”; Albert Brooks, “Drive”; Jesper Christensen, “The Debt”; George Clooney, “The Ides of March”; Robert Forester, “The Descendants”; Paul Giamatti, “The Ides of March”; Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”; John Hawkes, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Ides of March”; Jeremy Irons, “Margin Call”; Ben Kingsley, “Hugo”; Kevin Kline, “The Conspirator”; Hunter McCracken, “The Tree of Life”; Viggo Mortensen, “A Dangerous Method”; Patton Oswalt, “Young Adult”; Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life”; Christopher Plummer, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; Alan Rickman, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2”; Stellan Skarsgard, “Melancholia”; Andy Serkis, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”; Kevin Spacey, “Margin Call”; Corey Stoll, “Midnight in Paris”; Burt Young, “Win Win”
Will/Should Win: Plummer
Shocker: Von Sydow
Two 82-year-old veterans rule this race. Plummer, splendid as the terminally ill Hal Fields who joyously comes out of the closet, has swept the precursors, but faces a surprising challenge from the quietly captivating von Sydow as an elderly mute who joins his grandson for a life-changing exploration through New York after 9/11. Nonetheless, Plummer, who should have been nominated for “The Sound of Music,” will finally and deservedly be an Oscar winner.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
Overlooked: Kathy Bates, “Midnight in Paris,”; Sandra Bullock, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”; Jessica Chastain, “The Debt,” “Take Shelter” and “The Tree of Life”; Marion Cotillard, “Midnight in Paris”; Judi Dench, “J. Edgar”; Dagmara Dominczyk, “Higher Ground”; Elle Fanning, “Super 8”; Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Melancholia”; Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Help”; Anjelica Houston, “50/50”; Allison Janney, “The Help”; Keira Knightley, “A Dangerous Method”; Helen McCrory, “Hugo”; Carey Mulligan, “Drive” and “Shame”; Vanessa Redgrave, “Coriolanus”; Maya Rudolph, “Bridesmaids”; Amy Ryan, “Win Win”; Sissy Spacek, “The Help”; Marisa Tomei, “The Ides of March”; Cicely Tyson, “The Help”; Emily Watson, “War Horse”; Naomi Watts, “J. Edgar”; Evan Rachel Wood, “The Conspirator” and “The Ides of March”; Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”
Will/Should Win: Spencer
This is a terrific slate, particularly the inclusions of breakthrough talent Chastain and the strikingly transformative McTeer. Still, Spencer’s marvelous Minny Jackson was a luminously earthy, comedic and dramatic force to be reckoned with. Hopefully she will make Oscar history by joining Davis to become the first African-American duo to take leading and supporting honors. Davis and Spencer’s probable acceptance speeches could be very powerful so you might want to keep some tissues handy.
The 84th annual Academy Awards, hosted by Billy Crystal, will be telecast live on ABC Sunday, February 26 at 8:30 p.m. In related news, The Neon Movies, 130 E. Fifth St. in downtown Dayton, The Little Art Theatre, 247 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs, and FilmDayton will host Oscar parties Sunday evening. For information about the Neon’s festivities, call (937) 222-7469 or visit www.neonmovies.com. For Little Art inquiries, call (937) 767-7671 or visit www.littleart.com. For FilmDayton’s festivities, which will be held at Geez Grill and Pub, visit www.filmdayton.com