Whatever happened to the youth movement at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Younger hosts, hipper movies and A-list stars were supposed to be the recipe for alleviating anemic ratings for the annual Oscar telecast. But you’d never know it judging by this year’s crop of nominees, two of which are in their 80s, or the show’s host, 63-year-old Billy Crystal.
Even the nominees for Best Picture are set in days of old: “War Horse,” World War I; “Midnight in Paris” and “The Artist,” the Roaring Twenties; “Hugo,” the early 1930s; “The Tree of Life,” the 1950s; and “The Help,” the early 1960s. Only “The Descendants,” “Moneyball” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” are set in this century. And where are the A-list stars? Beyond Meryl Streep, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, they are nowhere to be found.
That doesn’t mean, however, that this year’s crop of movies and actors are any less deserving. In fact, with a few exceptions, they all represent the very best Hollywood had to offer in 2011. And who’s to argue that Billy Crystal, one of the most popular hosts in the show’s history, isn’t an ideal emcee for the Feb. 26 telecast on ABC? I know I’m not upset, especially after enduring the cavalcade of pretenders in recent years, from alleged hipster Jon Stewart to last year’s lackluster cohosts, Anne Hathaway and James Franco.
Who knows, it may be the most memorable show in years – or the worst. All that’s certain, beyond my picks below, is that the telecast will run long, stir a petty controversy or two and feature the ubiquitous sour puss of Angelina Jolie. Smile, already; you’re rich and living with Brad Pitt. What more do you want? So without further ado, here is how I see the races shaping up in the major categories, beginning with:
Best Supporting Actress
The nominees: Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”; Jessica Chastain, “The Help”; Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”; Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”; Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
Who was robbed: Judi Dench, “J. Edgar” – In a few brief scenes the grand dame sent shivers as the cold-blooded mother from hell, leaving little doubt why J. Edgar Hoover turned out the way he did.
Who should win: Octavia Spencer – In a cast stocked with major stars, the virtually unknown Spencer flat-out stole “The Help” with her feisty portrayal of Minnie, the maid who hilariously made it difficult for us to look at chocolate pie the same way again.
Who will win: Spencer The drop-dead gorgeous Berenice Bejo was a delight as the Hollywood ingénue with Clara Bow’s looks and Chaplin’s comedic grace, but Spencer was just a smidgen better. Don’t be surprised, though, if Bejo pulls the upset, given the Academy’s deep love for “The Artist.”
Page 2 of 5 - Best Supporting Actor
The nominees: Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”; Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”; Nick Nolte, “Warrior”; Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”; Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Who was robbed: Ben Kingsley, “Hugo” – It’s hard to imagine “Hugo” without Kingsley’s affecting portrayal of a forgotten filmmaker joyously reinvigorated by a new generation’s appreciation for his long-lost movies.
Who should win: Christopher Plummer – Max von Sydow did wonders without a lick of dialogue in “Extremely Loud.” He also was the only redeeming quality in a picture that shamelessly used the 9/11 attacks to elicit tears for a story deserving only scorn. Plummer, his fellow octogenarian, was also trapped in a lackluster movie, but what he does in his role as a cancer-stricken father who decides to come out of the closet at age 75 was just too funny, charming and powerful to resist.
Who will win: Plummer It’s shocking that at age 82 Plummer is still without an Oscar. But that will all change Sunday night when he wins, and wins big. He’ll also become the oldest Oscar recipient, besting Jessica Tandy, who was 80 when she won for “Driving Miss Daisy.”
The nominees: Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”; Viola Davis, “The Help”; Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”; Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
Who was robbed: Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids” – Not only did she coauthor one of the year’s biggest hits, Wiig also delivered a clinic on physical comedy so deft that she instantly resurrected memories of Mary Tyler Moore, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. The longtime character actress also proved beyond a doubt that she is the new queen of romantic comedy, with a lead performance that was as funny as it was heartbreaking.
Who should win: Viola Davis – With her interpretation of Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Williams conjured a mesmerizing performance that didn’t so much impersonate the blond bombshell, but vividly personified the iconic actress’ love-hate relationship with being in the spotlight. Still, she was no match for Davis, who brought much-needed gravitas to a movie that has been widely criticized for being too soft on racism. Her heartfelt acceptance speeches at the SAG and BFCA awards shows also will no doubt help accelerate her march to becoming only the second black woman (Halle Berry was the first) to win a Best Actress Oscar.
Who will win: Davis – The sentimental favorite is Streep, who was good, but not great, in her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. Besides, Davis has too much momentum going for her to allow Streep to pull the upset.
The nominees: Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”; George Clooney, “The Descendants”; Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”; Gary Oldman, “Tailor Tinker Soldier Spy”; Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
Page 3 of 5 - Who was robbed: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter” – Shannon’s omission is made all the more egregious because, in my opinion, he delivered the year’s best performance, playing a blue-collar family man, rightly or wrongly, convinced the world is about to end.
Who should win: George Clooney – Pitt had the better year, delivering career-best performances in both “The Tree of Life” and “Moneyball,” but his old pal, Clooney, was just too charming to resist as the patriarch of a dysfunctional family he fights desperately to hold together in the wake of tragedy.
Who will win: Jean Dujardin – As much as I loved Clooney’s ridiculously endearing performance, I believe the Oscar will go instead to Dujardin, who stands to become the first Frenchmen to ever be honored as Best Actor. And the award will be richly deserved thanks to his mostly silent portrayal of a washed-up 1920s movie star. As dashing as Valentino and as charming as Douglas Fairbanks, Dujardin epitomized what it means to be a vintage matinee idol, from his wonderfully expressive face to his winning physicality.
The nominees: Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”; Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”; Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”; Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”; Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
Who was robbed: Tate Taylor, “The Help” – Did a picture with four Oscar nominations, including three in the coveted acting categories, merely direct itself? Of course it didn’t, which makes it strange that Taylor isn’t listed here instead of Alexander Payne, whose “Descendants” was great, but hardly up to the abilities of a man who previously gave us gems like “Sideways” and “Election.”
Who should win: Martin Scorsese – Not only did Scorsese make it cool again to go to a family movie, he also made it OK to really like 3-D, especially when used as effectively as he uses the technology in making “Hugo” the most visually stunning movie of the year.
Who will win: Michel Hazanavicius – Scorsese still has an outside shot at pulling the upset. But rarely have Academy voters failed to fall in step with the Directors Guild Awards, which recognized Hazanavicius as its winner last month. Deservedly so, because not only was “The Artist” wildly imaginative, it was also a technical masterpiece thanks to Hazanavicius’ meticulous attention to detail in accurately duplicating the look and feel of films from the silent era.
The nominees: “The Artist”; “The Descendants”; “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”; “The Help”; “Hugo”; “Midnight in Paris”; “Moneyball”; “The Tree of Life”; “War Horse”
Who was robbed: “A Separation” – I know, the Iranian legal thriller is already nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Language film. But those two nods only underscore how much this wrenching, beautifully crafted film deserved to be here, especially after junk like “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” inexplicably made the cut.
Page 4 of 5 - Who should win: “Hugo” – Besides being beautiful to look at, terrifically acted and subtly persuasive in its call for film preservation, Scorsese’s PG-rated masterpiece will likely prove to be a movie for the ages, joining “The Wizard of Oz” and “ET” in the pantheon of iconic family films.
Who will win: “The Artist” - Having won a majority of the critics’ awards (it was also No. 1 on my list for 2011) and a Golden Globe, Hazanavicius’ loving valentine to Hollywood’s silent era stands to be the big winner Sunday night, earning at least five Oscars – picture, director, actor, score and editor – with a strong chance of garnering even more. Besides, it’s about Hollywood and its hallowed history. That alone should make it a lock.
Best Original Screenplay
The nominees: Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”; Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids”; J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call”; Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”; Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation”
Who was robbed: Jeff Nichols, “Take Shelter” - Of all of this year’s snubs, this one is the most flagrant. Not only did Nichols write a mind-bending sci-fi thriller, he also filled it with subtle but powerful commentary about the horrors faced by America’s middle class. From health care, joblessness and the strain of living paycheck to paycheck, Nichols tapped deep into our fears of an uncertain future.
Who should win: “A Separation” - Farhadi sculpted a spine-tingling thriller that consistently took you to places you never expected to go, while also provocatively exploring human frailty, especially how it pertains to religious dogma and social mores that (in this case) are tragically out of date.
Who will win: Hazanavicius has a strong chance of pulling the upset, but it’s more likely that the Academy will honor one of its most favorite sons in Allen (even though he never shows up at the ceremony) for typing out (yes, Allen wrote it on a typewriter) his best screenplay in decades. It is his 15th writing nomination and will be his third win after “Annie Hall” and “Hanna and Her Sisters.”
Best Adapted Screenplay
The nominees: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, “The Descendants”; John Logan, “Hugo”; George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, “The Ides of March”; Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, “Moneyball”; Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Who was robbed: Tate Taylor, “The Help” - I don’t understand why so many members of the Academy love “The Help” but have so little faith in Taylor. Is it because he came out of nowhere to write and direct one of the year’s biggest hits? Who knows? And while I understand complaints about the film’s uneven tone (mixing drama, comedy and slapstick), there’s no denying that his script created indelible characters that moved and inspired us. No easy task.
Page 5 of 5 - Who should win: “Moneyball” - About the only thing harder than hitting a Justin Verlander fastball, was adapting Michael Lewis’s book about deciphering baseball numbers and statistics into an entertaining movie. But that’s exactly what Zaillian and Sorkin did in creating a film that went deep with emotion in telling the true story about how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane turned a collection of “nothing guys” into a team that was really something.
Who will win: “The Descendants” - John Logan has an outside shot of winning this honor, but I fear too many voters will fail to look past “Hugo’s” dazzling visual style and see the very human story residing beneath the glitz. That’s why I think Payne and company will walk off the stage with the Oscar for a movie that offered its absorbing ideas about family and tradition in a straight, soulful manner.