Finally Getting It? The 2011 Oscar Nominations

by Bill Gibron

25 January 2011

The 2011 Oscar Nominations, with indications that, for once, the Academy might have figured out what truly was/is the Year's Best.

For decades now, critics and fans alike have been chastising the Academy Award for being out of step - either with populist opinion or the supposedly more learned judgment of cinematic scholarship. It’s the entity that ignored Hitchcock and Kubrick, that gave its highest accolade to misguided minor league entries like Around the World in 80 Days and Gladiator. For most of the ‘90s, many thought the tradition a dying dino. In response, the Oscars opened up the Best Picture category to 10 choices, a decision many saw as a calculated copying of the Golden Globes more mainstream focus. The AMPAS argued that said move would allow more deserving entries to face-off with the favorites. In its first year, the experiment seemed to fail upward. For most, 2011 would be the true test.

Perhaps it’s the injection of more youth into the voting pool, or the undeniability of this year’s limited field, but the overall nominations for 2011 are a rather impressive bunch. When addressing all categories, The King’s Speech was the big winner with 12 nods. Golden Globes nonentity True Grit walked away with 10, while the Summer smash Inception and the presumptive frontrunner The Social Network garnered eight.  The biggest “wow” however came with the multiple nominations for Winter’s Bone. While many in the indie arena loved this sensational slice of ‘hillbilly noir’, few figured Oscar was paying attention. There were wrong. Indeed, it looks like this year’s ceremony will finally reflect a more communal consensus on what was 2010’s best. This being the Academy Awards, however, there may be one or two upsets along the way.
Best Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

In a very interesting collection of ten titles, the only oddball appears to be the overpraised The Kids Are All Right. Many find the film fulfilling and fascinating. Others believe if paints a false picture of how alternative families function. Whatever the case may be, the inclusion of Winter’s Bone and more patented Pixar perfection represents a clear indication of how focused the Academy is becoming - perhaps. Instead of sticking in studio also-rans, they appear to be paying attention to often overlooked elements like quality and worth. As for the eventual winner, it’s a real crapshoot. The King’s Speech won the Producer’s Guild Award, and there are many pulling for the hit Grit, but with all the voting membership involved, The Social Network should continue its awards season dominance…should.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem for Biutiful
Jeff Bridges for True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network
Colin Firth for The King’s Speech
James Franco for 127 Hours

Bardem snatches away the slot many thought recent Golden Globe winner Paul Giamatii would own (or perhaps Blue Valentine‘s Ryan Gosling…or The Fighter‘s Mark Wahlberg), and Bridges ’ nod is a welcome acknowledgement of the otherwise pointless comparability to the great John Wayne. In the end, Firth has stayed at or near the top of Best-of lists since said assessments were being determined. He should get his well deserved statue this time around.

Best Actress
Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman for Black Swan
Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine

Not a single unworthy performance present here. While it would be nice to see Lawrence win for her stunning turn, this appears to be a race between Portman and Bening. The former has won almost every 2010 accolade. The latter is a part of Hollywood’s aging elite and is, perhaps, in need of some kind of career overview testament. While Williams and Kidman round out a very impressive company, it’s between the dancer and the Grand Dame, with our edge going to Aronofsky’s batshit ballerina.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale for The Fighter
John Hawkes for Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner for The Town
Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech

In many ways, this category is set up for an unexpected result. Many see Bale as finally winning the industry praise his actions both on and off screen seem to circumvent, while Rush is also poised as a possible given. That means that Hawkes could sneak in for his astonishing work in Bone. Of course, don’t count out a real shocker like Ruffalo winning for Kids. While it might mimic a certain Marisa Tomei moment, it’s the kind of left field swing that Oscar often delivers.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams for The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo for The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit
Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom

Finally! Things are now interesting in the Best Supporting Actress category. While her presence here is rather unfair (she is in practically every scene of the film), Miss Steinfeld is the main reason Grit works so well. She will give perceived winner Leo a run for her money, though don’t completely count out Jacki Weaver’s work in Kingdom. The real question will be - can the Academy overcome the mis-categorization of Steinfeld’s work to give her the trophy (they did nominate her here, after all), or will losing for Frozen River more or less guarantee that Leo goes home with the gold.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen for True Grit
David Fincher for The Social Network
Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
David O. Russell for The Fighter

Where Geek Nation will be foaming today will be in the Best Director category. Though he holds a nomination from his own Guild, Christopher Nolan must be experiencing that old Yogi Bera adage of “deja vu all over again.” Snubbed for his work on The Dark Knight, he is once again missing from this otherwise impressive list. In fact, one could make a strong argument against both Hooper (who crafted what amounts to an actor’s film) and Russell (ditto). In response, however, it’s nice to see the Coens’ splendid work on True Grit given its due. It may be nothing more than a honorarium, but the film - and their mark on it - definitely deserved it. In the end, however, it’s Fincher’s to lose.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
In a Better World
Outside the Law

Cheers to Oscar for taking a risk. Dogtooth is indeed a difficult film, dealing with subject matter that many will see as salacious and semi-exploitative. On the other hand, it’s a damning indictment of protectionism and conformity, a marvel at how isolation leads to perversion - both internally and externally. Bravo! Elsewhere, Biutiful retakes the front runners position, though don’t be surprised if Golden Globes spoiler In a Better World repeats here.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Mike Leigh  for Another Year
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington for The Fighter
Christopher Nolan for Inception
Lisa Cholodenko, and Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler for The King’s Speech

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Danny Boyle, and Simon Beaufoy for 127 Hours
Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network
Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for True Grit
Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini  for Winter’s Bone

In at least one of the two cases here, there is no big surprise. Sorkin has been the presumptive recipient of the Oscar since the first scene of the first screening of The Social Network, and nothing should change that now. Everyone else should just appreciate being present. As for Original Screenplay, this could be the place where Nolan gets his well deserved acknowledgement. The narrative of Inception is as inventive as it is difficult, and the Academy love to make the “intelligentia” play every now and then. However, few outside of Messageboard Nation will be miffed if Seidler soars by for Speech, or if Cholodenko and Blumberg get their Kids’ door prize.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

No Despicable Me means a rather easy choice for Oscar voters. While The Illusionist could pull off an upset, it looks like Pixar picks up yet another prize.

Best Documentary, Features
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

There are a few shocks here - no Tillman Story, no Waiting for “Superman”. However, the biggest stunner is a happy one, as sly street artist Banksy overcomes lingering questions of his film’s “authenticity” to take on the rest of the field. Exit could and should win, but said controversy may lead voters back toward the more mainstream choices of war (Restrepo) and/or politics (Inside Job).

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