Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My 2011 Oscar predictions!

Ready for the Oscars?
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) 

At the conclusion of our roundtable interview with Christian Bale last December during the press junket for The Fighter, just as the actor was about to stand up and leave the room, one journalist, who was still visibly struck by the immense power of Christian’s performance in the movie, quietly told him: “See you at the Oscars.”

Christian, who was uncharacteristically chatty that day, smiled and quickly said in retort, “Why, are you gonna be there? I’ll be watching you through my living room TV,” he told the journalist still smiling.

We know that wouldn’t be true anymore come Sunday evening (Monday morning in Manila). He wouldn’t be cozily lounging in his living room watching the ceremony on TV — he will be inside the Kodak Theater as he is tipped to collect his first Oscar trophy in a stellar career that has spanned nearly 25 years.

The actor who shot to fame as a child actor in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 war epic Empire of the Sun is the frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actor category for his gutsy and intense performance as a crack-addicted former star boxer struggling to cope with the rising popularity of his younger brother. His closest competitor in the category is Geoffrey Rush, the 1996 Best Actor winner, who delivered a quiet and restrained performance as an English commoner hired to become the speech therapist to the future king of England in The King’s Speech.

The other nominated actors in the category are Mark Ruffalo, whose charming turn as the sperm donor to a lesbian couple in The Kids are All Right was championed by the New York film critics, John Hawkes, who was scary as the depraved uncle who later found redemption in Winter’s Bone, and last year’s breakout star of The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner, who was impressive in the Ben Affleck-directed The Town.

When the nominations were announced last month, Christian’s co-star in The Fighter, Melissa Leo, who, like him, also grabbed the most pre-Oscar prizes, was considered the favorite to take the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her gritty turn as an overbearing mother to two boxer sons. The veteran actress, who received her first nomination portraying a different kind of mother two years ago in the indie drama Frozen River, was modest about her Oscar chances when this writer talked to her in early December. “I’m really, really glad,” she said referring to the buzz her performance was generating even before the movie’s release late last year. “It’s delightful and I wasn’t looking for recognition when I did this movie.”

But her hold in the category has somehow waned in the past couple of weeks after she released several “For Your Consideration” ads in various Hollywood trade papers touting her performance which has reportedly turned off a lot of Academy voters.

This interesting development has opened up the race for Melissa’s The Fighter co-star and critic darling Amy Adams, who was her usual best as the feisty girlfriend in the boxing drama. It also gave hope to Helena Bonham Carter, who was elegant as the supportive future king’s wife in The King’s Speech, Australian Jacki Weaver, who delivered my favorite performance in the category in the crime drama Animal Kingdom, and 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who stole True Grit from leads Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges.

Most Oscar predictions now put Hailee, who is being claimed by several Filipinos as their own after reports surfaced that she has at least 10 percent Filipino blood, as the favorite to score an upset in the category but despite the embarrassing ads, my pick to win is still Melissa Leo.

One of the supporting categories is typically the first to be handed out during the ceremony. On Sunday night, Oscar watchers are closely looking at either of this two categories for sign on what will win the coveted prize of the night: the Best Picture of the year.

In December and January, the Sony Pictures’ drama The Social Network appeared invincible after it collected practically all the precursor awards, including the Critics Choice award, which has the best record in predicting the Oscar Best Picture winner five years running.

But in true Hollywood fashion, what loomed as a boring, monotonous winter awards season unexpectedly turned into one thrilling rollercoaster ride when the Weinstein-backed British royalty drama about a stuttering monarch, The King’s Speech, collected all the major guild awards: Producers Guild, Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild.

The movie about the king of social networking suddenly found a challenger for the Oscar crown — from a movie about a real king, at that! All early Oscar predictions were scrapped, re-analyzed and this year’s Oscar story dramatically evolved.

On Oscar night, should Geoffrey Rush or Helena Bonham Carter score victories in their respective categories, expect The King’s Speech to take the Best Picture trophy and just hope for David Fincher to win in the Best Director category. But if they do not score any upsets, keep hoping that the revolution in Egypt, which was sparked by a rallying call on Facebook, helped The Social Network to score the necessary votes to win the biggest prize in movies.

The other Best Picture nominees are Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone, True Grit, The Kids are All Right, The Fighter, Inception, 127 Hours and Black Swan.

The nominees for Best Director are David Fincher (The Social Network), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter), Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit) and Darren Arronofsky (Black Swan).

Many predictions are calling for a rare Best Picture/Best Director split this year. The general consensus has The King’s Speech taking Best Picture and The Social Network the Best Director trophy.

I disagree. Just as Mark Zuckerberg was stubborn and made Facebook the biggest modern invention enjoyed by half a billion people all over the world, I am keeping my faith that the Academy will award both trophies to the Best Movie of the Year! All The King’s Speech supporters, including my good friend and film student Anselmo Manosca, are welcome to their own opinions.

In contrast to the Best Picture category, the frontrunners in the major acting categories are just about waiting for their coronation on Oscar night.

British actor Colin Firth has no competition in the Best Actor category. His magnificent turn as a would-be king suffering from a speech defect is both heartwarming and inspiring and the other nominated actors in his category are unlucky to be in his court this year.

This year’s Oscar co-host, James Franco, who delivered a raw and riveting performance in 127 Hours, could have easily won the category in another year but should just instead hope for a consolation win later in his career. Last year’s winner Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), and Javier Bardem, who was heavily promoted by Julia Roberts to get a nomination for his haunting turn in Biutiful, complete the list of nominees.

In the Best Actress category, Natalie Portman, whose turn as a ballerina haunted by paranoia in Black Swan won her virtually all the major critics awards, similarly holds the lock and only Annette Bening has the strongest chance in upsetting her.

Annette delivered the performance of her career as the other half of a lesbian couple encountering the same ordinary problems as their married straight counterparts in The Kids are All Right. This writer always maintained, so does my friend and film archivist Jo Atienza, that if it were not for the terrific performances by the entire cast, it would not have been too difficult to ignore the glaring clichés that riddle the narrative. And if Annette didn’t deliver the right contrast to Julianne Moore’s expressive performance, the story would have been less compelling and the movie less watchable.

Sadly, though, she is up again this year against a younger actress who is delivering a career-defining performance. Just as Annette lost twice to Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby) and once to Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) she is unfortunately bound to lose again this year to Natalie, whose camera and make-up-aided performance was the heart and soul of the ballet thriller Black Swan.

It is interesting to note that when Annette lost to Hilary for the first time, Hilary portrayed a transgendered woman in Boys Don’t Cry and this year Annette portrays a lesbian; it is anybody’s guess what role she has to play to enable her to win that elusive Oscar. I am hoping I am wrong in my prediction and Annette does win the trophy.

The other Best Actress nominees are Michelle Williams, who was incredible in Blue Valentine, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, whose impressive turn in the bleak drama Winter’s Bone is my other favorite to win the trophy, and previous winner Nicole Kidman, who scored a surprise nomination for her turn as a grieving mother in Rabbit Hole.

Aside from the highly anticipated Best Picture/Best Director split, the other biggest mystery going into Oscar night is whether the famous graffiti artist known only as Banksy will finally unmask and introduce himself to the world should his documentary on the evolution of street art in Los Angeles Exit Through the Gift Shop wins the trophy. I wonder if the police would arrest him for his multiple vandalism violation on stage; that would make for an extra-interesting night.

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