Thursday, 16 February 2012

OSCARS 2012: Shaping up the Race - The Acting Categories

This week I’m going to be casting my searing gaze forward to next Sunday’s Academy Awards and take a gander at how Hollywood’s biggest night is shaping up, and whom is looking likely to be going home to a slightly blingier mantelpiece and that inescapable label on every future wikipedia article, trailer, poster etc. etc. of ‘academy award winner...'.
This week I’ll take a look at those juicy, oft-discussed, usually divisive acting categories, and move on to the likes of Director, Best Picture and the Screenplay/Technical awards next week. Just by dint of all the speculation and buzz surrounding them, the acting awards usually have the most to discuss and debate so they're getting their own blog.
So if you want to know who is looking likely to win what, or just want seem particularly educated on the subject in the office/similar workplace, or even dare to wish to use my insight to put some cheeky bets on this years race, then read on! I’ve generally got a pretty good track record at predicting the Oscars, so here’s hoping I’m not about to make myself look a damn fool all over the tintersquet!
I’m going to go into quite a bit of detail, trying to dovetail my predictions with a kind of Oscar retrospective at the same time, looking at what patterns and wins/snubs/surprises of previous years may teach us about what may come to pass when Oscar turns 84. If you don’t want to read through the entirety of my musings and reflections, I’ve summarised the nominees and closed each section with a brief conclusion and prediction. Hopefully it will be informative and interesting, but more importantly, accurate!


GEORGE CLOONEY - The Descendants
GARY OLDMAN - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
BRAD PITT - Moneyball

Firstly - if you’ve got your Oscar ballot of predictions with you, scratch off Gary Oldman and Demian Bichir, because they aren’t going anywhere near that podium. I’m thrilled that Gary Oldman in particula - a reputable, versatile and highly dependable actor - has finally garnered his first Oscar nomination, especially considering he was looking likely to be left out of this category in favour of Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) or, in a bitter pill to swallow because he hasn’t been nominated, the excellent Michael Fassbender (Shame). So it’s carnations and celebrations that Mr Oldman managed to sneak in there - but as I said, his chances of winning are practically non-existent.
Why? Well, firstly, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy failed to nab a Best Picture nomination, so despite the somewhat unexpected nominations it did secure (it also nabbed a Screenplay citation) the general love and buzz for the film doesn't seem to be quite there. Secondly, Oldman failed to nab the BAFTA for Best Actor on a night where a clear show of support came through for the film - Tinker Tailor took home a handful of awards including Best British Film. If he was to stand a chance at Oscar, he needed to be walking up to clutch that BAFTA, and instead it went to far-and-away favourite, Jean Dujardin. 

Demian Bichir, likewise, came in as a welcome surprise when the nominations were announced, and bloggers and critics alike seemed to be rooting for him to get recognised and were thankful he made the cut. But it seems fairly safe to suppose the buck stops there for Bichir - like Oldman, he should be content and grateful for the unexpected nomination, especially considering he supplanted some excellent performances and actors (notably Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling who were both coming off the backs of excellent years with multiple brilliant performances) to get his spot.
If it weren’t for the presence of not one but two Hollywood heavyhitters (George Clooney and Brad Pitt), Jean Dujardin would have this category absolutely locked and he could have began dusting his mantlepiece off anytime now (to apply a much-overused Oscar adage). As it stands, he is nonetheless the strong favourite and clear frontrunner. He has practically every precursor under his belt (the only exception being the Critics Choice which went to Clooney) and the likelihood that The Artist is going to be this years big winner. There are other factors working in Dujardin’s favour - Clooney is a previous winner and there could very easily be the consensus that this may be their only chance to reward Dujardin for what was a solid, effective performance, compared to say, Brad Pitt, who will likely manage to fit more Oscar nominations onto his CV at some point in the future. 
If George Clooney didn’t already have an Oscar then I believe he would have presented fiercer competition, but he is still Dujardin’s greatest threat. Although practically every performance he gives seems to be mass-cited as ‘his greatest yet’, this is the first out of his recent nominations (see also Michael Clayton, Up in the Air) in which the performance seems to be meaty and emotional enough to translate to Oscar gold. The Descendants has also been a hit over in the states, and whilst it has not been quite as well received by the Academy as expected (many predicted Alexander Payne would nab a Best Director nom) this films goodwill, the performance itself and the industry love for Clooney, along with him getting a strong showing of precursor nominations (and a Critics Choice win) could prelude him upsetting next Sunday evening.
Where does that leave Brad Pitt? Despite having no significant precursor wins, there is still a lot of goodwill and a more accepted consensus that this is one of his strongest performances and decidedly Oscar-worthy fare (I myself have not seen the film so cannot pass judgement). He’s a previous nominee and Hollywood royalty, and there are plenty of voters, particularly those based in LA, who would feel that he is more overdue and deserving of the statue than the relatively unknown foreign newcomer in the form of Dujardin, and heaven knows the LA actor influence can be a powerful thing... someone please tell me Crash didn’t just win Best Picture...

Sorry. 2006 flashbacks.
Realistically speaking, Dujardin has this fairly sewn up. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t win, and no doubt deliver a charming, humble speech prior to The Artist likely scooping Best Picture as well. However, if the The Artist is going to dominate Best Picture and Best Director as I strongly suspect it will do, some may spread out their votes in other major characters, in which case Clooney, or possibly even Pitt, could creep in on their status and back catalogue. Oldman and Bichir are deserving nominees but nigh-impossible winners, but it is nice to see two hard-working respectable actors finally getting Oscar recognition.
PREDICTION: Jean Dujardin - The Artist
ALTERNATIVELY: George Clooney - The Descendants
DARK HORSE/SURPRISE: Brad Pitt - Moneyball


GLENN CLOSE - Albert Nobbs
ROONEY MARA - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
MERYL STREEP - The Iron Lady
MICHELLE WILLIAMS - My Week With Marilyn

This category seemed all but sewn-up until BAFTA came along and threw a minor spanner in the works by awarding Lead Actress to Meryl Streep. Earlier in this years awards race everyone seemed comfortable concluding that finally, after nearly 30 years, the incomparable Ms. Streep was going to secure her third Oscar after 12 nominations in the inter-rim where she has gone home empty handed. She is loved by the industry and public alike, and it is about time the 'greatest living actress', and most nominated thespian in Oscar history, got her third. However, once the precursors began, Viola Davis began to seem more of a sure thing - even though Streep beat her at the Golden Globes, Davis won the SAG and gave an extremely noble, well-received speech which seemed to catapult her into the lead, with subsequent buzz exploding.
Likewise, Davis has been campaigning and handling the support extremely well, and is evidently loved by the industry - which makes her a more satiable prospect compared to Streep who already has 2 Oscars to her name. In addition, Davis was nominated back in 2009 for her brief but extremely effective turn in Doubt (in which she curiously starred opposite mostly Streep), and still has an enormous amount of residual goodwill leftover from then, when many felt she deserved a win. In addition, Octavia Spencer (more on her in supporting actress) has been dominating her category and a double win for The Help’s beloved duo of Davis and Spencer just seemed to be where Oscar was heading.
However, with Streep going on to take the BAFTA, the playing field seems to have leveled and become less predictable, and makes this category quite the difficult one to predict. Streep now has the BAFTA and Golden Globe on her side, but it’s important to remember two contributing factors going against queen Meryl: firstly, not many people were particularly impressed by The Iron Lady, evidenced in even the BAFTA’s mostly ignoring the film (a Brit biopic of that ilk usually reigns supreme there) whereas The Help has a lot more support and love, and the two awards she has picked up easily have potential bias in her favour - the Golden Globes love to award the major Hollywood stars (seriously) and the BAFTA’s, despite not loving The Iron Lady, do often have a bias towards performers who take on figures from our country’s history. 
Glenn Close is riding in with her fifth nomination and still no win, but unfortunately the film itself (Albert Nobbs) has nowhere near enough momentum to catapult her into anything approaching frontrunner status. It’s a shame, more than any other actress in the category, Close is an unrewarded stalwart who many feel is one of the outstanding great actress who still have no Oscar to their name. In other years that may have been enough to aid her chances, but she has gained hardly any precursors and buzz for both her and the film seem to have died. There is still a tiny remote chance that her overdue status could pull in a surge of unexpected votes, especially with Streep and Davis seeming to be leveling out, but I unfortunately can’t see her getting anywhere near enough momentum so late in the game. 
Rooney Mara is definitely this categories also-ran. Many feel she has taken a spot that belonged to Tilda Swinton for We Need To Talk About Kevin or Charlize Theron for Young Adult (I think the academy have had their fill of comedy cake this year with Melissa McCarthy’s nomination) and there have been the inevitable comparisons to Noomi Rapace  who recently played the same role in the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and picked up her fair share of plaudits and nominations in doing so, putting Mara’s chances of winning seemingly entirely out of reach. She is a newcomer in a crowded category of more overdue veterans, and the Academy will not be ignorant to the likelihood of being able to award her again in future.
Michelle Williams is something of an ambiguity here. She won the Golden Globe (though admittedly in the far less competitive musical or comedy category) and has secured a steady stream of precursor nominations. She also has the prestige of playing a real life individual and also being a previously unrewarded and highly active respected actress. All of those contributing factors have screamed Oscar in the past (most recently the likes of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, Nicole Kidman in The Hours and Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovich). Having said all that, she does not have any of those actresses standing or repute in Hollywood (yet) and seems to have been mostly overlooked, surprising considering she is playing such a baity role in Marilyn Monroe. Streep seems to have taken the limelight as far as the biopic vote goes, and Williams’ film never really got any momentum this season to help her out. However, just on the strength of the above and the fact she did nab that globe and all her nominations means it may be foolish to completely dismiss her - she seems a more likely surprise than Close or Mara, but what an obstacle she has to overcome in the form of usurping both Streep and Davis.
Something in my gut (how academic) tells me this is still Davis’ to lose. In a stronger film and less controversy surrounding the individual she portrays Streep would likely have cakewalked this, but she also has to contend with the fact that she is such a mainstay of the Oscars with such an abundance of nominations people seem to constantly think there is an alternative on the horizon she could and should win for. This is still Streep’s baitiest performance in years though - playing Margaret Thatcher, throwing in the de-glam and battling with mental illness addendum's which Oscar seem to go crazy for. Mara seems to have little-to-no chance, and Williams and Close definitely have a lot of ground to cover if they want to be the ones getting to the podium - Williams has the clout of her role and a number of factors which could work in favour, and Close could rebound off of the veteran vote, but I still think it will be Davis walking up to collect her first come Oscar night.... but not if that crafty Meryl Streep has anything to do with it.
PREDICTION: Viola Davis - The Help
ALTERNATIVELY: Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
DARK HORSE/SURPRISE: Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn


KENNETH BRANAGH - My Week With Marilyn
JONAH HILL - Moneyball
NICK NOLTE - Warrior
MAX VON SYDOW - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Firstly, where is Albert Brooks for Drive? It’s quite embarrassing he was left out in favour of, oh, I don’t know, JONAH HILL?!? Then again, Drive was snubbed across the board pretty much so guess I better just get over that...
This race seems to have geared up into a battle royale between two industry veterans, both of whom have never been awarded: Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow. Oscar absolutely LOVES to use this category to reward the veterans, see: Sean Connery (The Untouchables), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Chris Cooper (Adaptation), Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), etc. even if the performance doesn’t necessarily deserve it (I’m looking at yoooouuu Alan Arkin and Sean Connery). Whereas Best Supporting Actress usually is the place to throw a bone to the young, up-and-coming actresses who have given great performances and are stepping into the A-list, the opposite is often true here. 
As such, the other 3 contenders really shouldn’t worry too much about practising those acceptance speeches. Jonah Hill seems too divisive due to previous projects (many still see him as the guy from Superbad) to stand a chance here, and whilst his performance in Moneyball has been praised, I just can’t see him winning an Oscar sitting well with the Academy. Nick Nolte is a previous, unrewarded nominee and he was something of a surprise when the nominees were announced, but Warrior just has no presence or buzz in the awards circuit (the same could be said for Beginners, which Plummer is nominated for, but we’ll get onto him in a minute). The same is also true of Kenneth Branagh - he looked far more likely earlier on in the race before it became apparent that My Week With Marilyn wasn’t particularly well received as a film. There are those that believe Branagh gives a stronger performance than leading lady Michelle Williams, and the fact that he has received prior nominations in writing and directing as well as acting means he does have a definite ‘overdue’ aura about him, coupled with the baity role as one of the great thesps in Laurence Olivier, but again I just can’t see him triumphing over the two oldguard who seemto be dominating this category at this late stage.
So, Plummer VS Von Sydow... let battle commence!
On paper, Plummer looks like the sure thing - he has secured all the major precursors (SAG - check, Golden Globe - check, BAFTA - check) and many were amazed when he was nominated in this category 2 years ago that it was his first ever nomination. However, the presence of Von Sydow in this category, that he is garnering a lot of industry buzz and support, coupled with the surprise inclusion of the film he is nominated for, Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close, as a Best Picture nominee, could indicate more support than expected. There have been plenty of instances, especially in this category, where Oscar just flat out refuses to be told who to vote for, and Von Sydow is certainly shaping up to look like the most likely to rob the gold man from Plummer’s hands if that's to be the case this year. A couple of months back nobody would really have even thought to include Von Sydow as a nominee in this category, especially seeing as he got not a single significant precursor nomination (no BAFTA, globe or SAG nominee) so to have made it into the category is really telling of what a last-minute swell of support there could be for the film and his performance.
Plummer still seems to have this one in the bag, and if you want someone to put your money on, he’s your man. People seem to want him to win above all else. However, his film has no other external support and Max Von Sydow is quickly gaining buzz, but is it enough to have secured enough votes to topple Plummer? Branagh could sneak in there as a fellow ‘overdue’ nominee in a baity role, but Nolte and Hill, unless they are going to pull one of the biggest surprises of recent years, should be happy to just go along for the ride. At a push, watch out for Nick Nolte being the surprise veteran vote if Plummer and Von Sydow split.
PREDICTION: Christopher Plummer - Beginners
ALTERNATIVELY: Max Von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
DARK HORSE/SURPRISE: Keneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn


JANET MCTEER - Albert Nobbs

I’ve saved this until the end because with Best Supporting Actress because we have the category which, as a whole, always seems most likely to throw a surprise or curveball in there on occasion. Take for example, back in 2008 when Tilda Swinton swept in to win this category ahead of critics favourite Amy Ryan (for Gone Baby Gone), early prediction favourite Cate Blanchett (for her brilliant performance as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There) and industry veteran and SAG-winner Ruby Dee (for American Gangster). Tilda had the BAFTA but the general consensus was it was a fight between Blanchett and Dee, with Ryan as a highly possible upset. 
This year the unpredictable element comes in the form of Melissa McCarthy’s much-championed nomination for Bridesmaids. The film is adored, and garnered great box office both in the US and internationally, and McCarthy is widely cited as the best thing in the movie - high praise when it features such a strong and well-received cast. It’s also worth glancing back to September of last year when McCarthy won ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series’ at the Emmy's for Mike and Molly when even fans of the show agreed she wasn’t the strongest in the category - the general consensus being she was riding on a lot of hype and buzz from both the show but also Bridesmaids which had not long been released. That she has maintained the hype through to a nomination, something of a shock for the Oscars who rarely see fit to honour such flat-out comedic performances, could indicate far more industry support than anticipated, especially considering she also nabbed herself a SAG nomination (with actors making up the bulk of the voting Academy membership).  
Back in 1992 Marisa Tomei came out of nowhere in this category to win in a similarly comedic role for My Cousin Vinny - it was so unexpected many people even to this day still believe Jack Valance, who was presenting the award, made a mistake or deliberately read out the wrong name as a kind of single-finger-salute to the Academy. Regardless of whether there is any truth in that, it just goes to show that this, perhaps above any other category, is the one where a comedic turn can sneak in and surprise, and coupled with the swell of love, both industry and public, for McCarthy means she could, however unlikely, slide in there as a massive upset next Sunday evening. The major contributing factor to this happening is, as mentioned, her immense popularity, and a consensus that if that happened, it would be a shock that would not be unwelcome and would be seen as a welcome broadening of perspectives and attitudes by the Academy in embracing comedy in a way it has struggled to previously.
However, with that all being said, this category currently seems like a two-horse race which does not including McCarthy in said line-up. Octavia Spencer has been steamrolling her way through the precursor awards, picking up the SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe. Rarely do all three of those awards in tandem not signify Oscar gold - see the likes of Monique (Precious), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) and Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain) in recent years. She just seems to have far too much traction and momentum in this category to go away empty handed, and for each of her recent precursor wins she has given a warm, well-received speech, much like her co-star Viola Davis. Spencer and Davis’ characters in the film are an effective, memorable pairing, and there seems to be a great deal of support in giving the duo a ‘Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress’ double whammy. 
The other nominee who is currently vying with Spencer for the award is Berenice Bejo for industry darling The Artist. With her film looking likely to scoop up a neat number of Oscars, there is a very strong possibility Bejo could be swept along in the love and more members vote for her as part of a push for The Artist than anticipated. The film looks very likely to be taking Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director and a clutch of technical awards, so it is only a stone’s throw from performing a major sweep - the likes of which Oscar occasionally love to usher actors in with. If such a swell of support for Artist is there, and it seems like it very well could be, Bejo could easily usurp Spencer and take home the gold.
Which leaves our also-rans Jessica Chastain and Janet McTeer. Unfortunately for McTeer, the love for Albert Nobbs has only appeared in its two acting nominations, and the response to the film was luke-warm at best. McTeer’s performance, however, was almost unanimously praised, with some saying it surpassed even Glenn Close’s work in the film, so many welcomed this almost-surprise (many thought McTeer or McCarthy would be left out in favour of Shailene Woodley from The Descendants) on nominations morning. However, it seems this is definitely a case of the nomination being reward enough, and there is no way whatsoever I can see her securing more votes than practically any of her competitors. 
Jessica Chastain got a much-deserved nomination for a remarkable years work, and I have absolutely no doubt this will be the first of many nominations to come. Her nomination being for The Help is something of a double-edged sword - whilst many feel her performance in the likes of The Tree of Life or Take Shelter were more deserving of a nomination than her lighter turn in The Help, and by being nominated for that film she is going to lose split votes to co-star Octavia Spencer, there is also a very real possibility that had she not campaigned to be nominated for this film, she may have been left out of the category altogether, due to The Help having far more buzz and support than even The Tree of Life with it’s Best Picture and Best Director nominations.
Woo... a lot there for Best Supporting Actress, but again it’s such a crazy variable category with a major unpredictable element in the form of Melissa McCarthy. Chastain has had an amazing year knocking out several stellar turns but, like McTeer, I think she’s going to have to be happy to just get invited with a nomination. The smart money would still undoubtedly be on Octavia Spencer, and both history and statistics go in her favour, but don’t count out a sweep rush for Berenice Bejo. Having said all that, if McCarthy hadn’t won the emmy last year and secured nominations at the BAFTA’s, SAG’s and Golden Globes, I’d have been content to write her off as an also-ran. As it stands, don’t completely rule-out a very welcome surprise victory for her next Sunday, even though at the moment it looks like a decidedly outside chance.
PREDICTION: Octavia Spencer - The Help
ALTERNATIVELY: Berenice Bejo - The Artist
DARK HORSE/SURPRISE: Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids

NEXT WEEK - With only a few days left to go until the big night itself, I shall take a look at the Best Picture, Best Director, Screenplay and Technical Categories. 

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