With the Golden Globes done and dusted and the BAFTA nominations now announced the major contenders for the year’s biggest set of awards have emerged. What makes the 2011 Academy Awards a particularly tantalising prospect is the promise of what could be a significant spread of accolades around the various competitors compared to previous years, in which no more than two or three films usually scoop multiple awards (not since the 2006 ceremony have more than two films picked up three or more awards). Going on what has occurred thus far in the awards season it seems unlikely that one film will totally dominate the major categories in the way films like Slumdog Millionaire and Lord of the Rings: Return of The King did. And while the main pool of contenders is made up of the usual mix of mainstream, indie and art house, 2010 has given us an unusually high number of films that are all equally worthy of the top awards. All of which points to what could be one the most exciting and unpredictable ceremonies for decades. So lets take a look at the movies in question.
Beginning with what was unquestionably the biggest film of 2010, Inception truly deserved all the critical praise and box office receipts it received. Wholly original and completely enthralling Christopher Nolan’s art house-blockbuster is still unlikely to scoop big awards due to being in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, which along with comedy, is always the most overlooked. However following the decent showing of Avatar, District 9 and Star Trek at last year’s awards, it may still bag some nominations and possibly even awards for it’s visual effects, sound and possibly for Hans Zimmer’s marvellous score.
Following in the footsteps of Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, this year’s slot for token indie flick is filled by The Kids Are All Right. A smart and original comedy drama about an unconventional modern family, it did good business at the box office and notched up two Golden Globe awards, for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Annette Bening. And with Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA nominations, Bening will likely be Natalie Portman’s biggest rival for Best Actress.
True Grit, the Coen Brothers’ remake of the 1969 film of the same name (itself based on Henry Portis’ novel), poses two issues for Academy voters: 1) Do we laud another Coen Brothers film so soon after the success of No Country For Old Men at the 2008 Oscars? 2) Does Jeff Bridges’ performance deserve the Best Actor award as much as he did last year? If Bridges’ does win he’d become part of a couple of very exclusive clubs. Firstly, he’d be the tenth man to win two Best Actor awards and only the third after Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks to win them in consecutive years. And secondly, it would be only the second time that a film character has had two different actors win Oscars for playing them, as John Wayne won his only Oscar for playing Rooster Cogburn in the ‘69 original (with the first instance being Vito Corleone played by Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro in The Godfather Parts 1 & 2 respectively) With early reviews suggesting the film is closer to No Country For Old Men than the film it is in fact based on, True Grit will be incredibly hard to ignore (as most Coen Brothers films are). Despite this I fear it may still be overlooked, as the Coens’ A Serious Man was last year.
The most likely thing to stop Jeff Bridges from taking consecutive gongs comes in the form of The King’s Speech’s leading man; the very lovely, the very charming, the very British Colin Firth. It’s easy to be cynical about how Firth has done everything required of him to win and Oscar: he’s notched up at least one previous nomination (for last year’s A Single Man), he’s playing someone with a personal affliction (which helped the likes of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot), and better than that he’s playing a historical figure (5 of the last 8 Best Actor winners played historical figures) and even better than that he’s playing a Royal (back in 2007 Helen Mirren may as well have actually been the Queen for all the boot licking she got for playing her). But sarcasm aside Firth perhaps deserves this year’s award more than most because his performance is so touching and utterly mesmerising. The film itself has racked up 14 BAFTA nominations but is unlikely to do as well at the Oscars, although Firth is all but a shoe in for Best Actor.
The Fighter, directed by David O. Russell, could come away from this year’s awards with more statues than you’d initially think. On the surface it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, as a tough and gritty boxing film it is not dissimilar to The Wrestler or Million Dollar Baby. But it looks likely to stand out on the strength of an excellent ensemble cast consisting of Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. Across the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA nominations, and the Golden Globe awards it has picked up more nods for its four leads than any other film. Bale and Leo both won Golden Globes for their supporting roles and it seems like they’ll also go on to win the more coveted golden statues on February 27th.
Danny Boyle’s self proclaimed vanity project 127 Hours is unlikely to bring him the wealth of awards that Slumdog Millionaire did two years ago but still might give James Franco a fighting chance of beating Colin Firth to the Best Actor award. He comes of age as an actor in what is essentially a one-man show, and as a true-life-against-the-odds-American-survival story the film is typical awards bait. Incidentally, with Franco actually co-hosting the ceremony (with Anne Hathaway) it is the first time the host has received a nomination.
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is an art house film about a high art (ballet), and could be seen as this year’s dark horse, having gained wide critical reception and recognition at festivals but not yet garnering the same amount of awards thus far that The King’s Speech and The Social Network have. Natalie Portman is the current favourite for Best Actress and will probably line up against previous winners Nicole Kidman and Hilary Swank. Aronofsky is possibly the only person who might upset David Fincher on Oscar night, because tradition tells us that when a film wins Best Picture (as The Social Network probably will) but doesn’t completely sweep the board, then often the director of any present art house film will pick up the Best Director award, such as Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain and Steven Soderbergh for Traffic.
The Social Network has emerged as the front-runner for the top award of Best Motion Picture, with David Fincher leader of the pack for the directing award. Although its Golden Globe success does not completely guarantee a walkover at the Oscars, but it does stand apart from the rest for being a brilliantly artistic document of a pivotal moment in contemporary US history. The tremendous work by its ensemble cast is perhaps second only to that of The Fighter. Young Brit Andrew Garfield is particularly worthy of recognition and could be a smart bet for Best Supporting Actor at the BAFTAs. And it’s hard to see anyone other than Aaron Sorkin winning Best Adapted Screenplay, his smart script fizzles with the same wit that he bedazzled us in The West Wing with. It also seems like the perfect time to reward David Fincher after years of superlative filmmaking. Two years ago Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button picked up thirteen nominations but by all accounts flopped on awards night, only winning three. This time around though The Social Network is a far more worthy film and could well bring Fincher his first, long awaited Oscar.
Despite The King’s Speech and The Social Network beginning to nudge ahead of the rest in sheer number of awards won, it still seems that the Oscar nominations this year have been spread around the main pool of films more evenly than usual, which should make for more exciting viewing on the big night. On a final note, I’d just like to say that if Toy Story 3 fails to win Best Animated Feature, then all those Academy voters who instead gave their votes to Despicable Me should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.