Here are today’s major winners and losers, as I see them.
“The King’s Speech” — With 12 nominations, including best picture, best director for Tom Hooper and acting nominations for its three featured performers (Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter), this appealing yarn about George VI, aka Bertie, and his Aussie speech therapist will now be seen as Oscar co-favorite. I’m not buying it, at least not yet. I foresee a split ticket, with “Social Network” winning best picture and best director, but “King’s Speech” potentially winning two or even all three of the acting awards.
“True Grit” — The surprise chick flick of the season — and if you think I’m cracking a joke, you haven’t seen it — piled up a bunch of nominations, but most likely won’t win in any major category. In the upside-down star-system logic of Hollywood, Jeff Bridges was nominated for best actor in what is clearly a supporting role, while youthful star Hailee Steinfeld, who’s probably on-screen for 80 percent of the film’s running time, won a supporting-actress nod.
“The Fighter” — Yes, Mark Wahlberg’s quiet starring role as small-town palooka Micky Ward was passed over, which is kind of too bad. But with a best-picture nomination and supporting nods for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams — all of whom were fantastic — this richly enjoyable yarn of downscale ’90s America may get a second look from viewers who stayed away the first time around. Bale and Leo are seen by many as favorites, but the “King’s Speech” upsurge may swamp them.
“Winter’s Bone” — Debra Granik’s devastating crime saga set in the Ozarks came out early in the year and did modest business. But critics didn’t forget it, and neither did the Academy, which delivered a best-picture nomination, an acting nod for young star Jennifer Lawrence, and a supporting-actor nomination for the menacing John Hawkes.
“Gasland” — Oscar’s documentary category often tracks closely with rising social and political issues, and this relatively obscure work from activist filmmaker Josh Fox explores “hydrofracking,” a controversial and destructive method of natural-gas extraction that has rapidly become a hot environmental cause in the Northeast.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” — Is the debut film from shadowy British artist Banksy a genuine documentary or an artfully constructed fraud? I’ve never thought it was an interesting question — since the movie is hilarious, and poses the same philosophical questions about art and commerce, either way — and in delivering an Oscar nomination, I guess the Academy agrees.
“Dogtooth” – This dark and disturbing allegory from Greek filmmaker Giorgios Lanthimos looked like the longest of long shots for foreign-Oscar consideration. But persistent critical adoration put it on the map, and here it is. (I’m not the biggest fan — but I’ll deal with the intriguing list of foreign-film nominees in due course.)
“The Social Network” — Don’t get me wrong; I still think this is the best-picture favorite, and that David Fincher will also go home with the best-director statuette. But it received fewer nominations than either “King’s Speech” or “True Grit.” Jesse Eisenberg won’t win, and neither Andrew Garfield nor Justin Timberlake were nominated for their outstanding supporting performances.
“Inception”– Despite a world-conquering box-office take of $823 million and the adulation of countless fans, Christopher Nolan again finds himself a bit player in the Oscar race. “Inception’s” nods for best picture and original screenplay are basically affirmative action for commercial cinema. I don’t think it will win in either category, and Nolan himself was passed over in the directing category. Various commentators are acting like a surprise — at this point, it’s more like a ritual.
“Blue Valentine” — Maybe that NC-17 controversy really did hurt. Michelle Williams was nominated for best actress, but costar Ryan Gosling was passed over, and Derek Cianfrance’s gritty marriage drama, despite all the critical raves, was otherwise ignored.
“127 Hours” – Sure, both Danny Boyle’s film and star James Franco were nominated. But a muddled critical reception, mediocre box office and the general sense that Franco is an overexposed hipster avatar have rendered this brutal, effects-driven freakout an Oscar-race afterthought.
“The Town” — Ben Affleck’s Boston bank-heist thriller was well reviewed early in the fall, but all along it was just a dumbass pop film that was slightly better crafted than others of its ilk. Jeremy Renner’s supporting-actor nomination is richly deserved, but Oscar otherwise gave the cold shoulder to this forgettable vanity project.
“The Tillman Story” — Amir Bar-Lev’s fascinating documentary about Army Ranger Pat Tillman, the former football star killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan — an idiosyncratic individual from an amazing American family — seemed like an obvious contender. I guess Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s “Restrepo,” a powerful you-are-there doc, filled Oscar’s war-movie quota.
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also see the 10 oscar nods that won’t happen but should…