Oscars: AP critics split on best picture
BY DAVID GERMAIN AND CHRISTY LEMIRE / Associated Press
LOS ANGELES >> Associated Press movie writers David Germain and Christy Lemire agree on who will win five of the six top categories at Sunday’s Academy Awards, but they are divided on the biggest of all.
Germain predicts “The King’s Speech” will be crowned best picture, while Lemire picks “The Social Network.” They both agree David Fincher will earn the directing Oscar for “The Social Network.”
Here are their predictions, with both sounding off on best picture, Lemire offering their take on best actor and director, and Germain giving their opinion on best actress, supporting actor and supporting actress.
Nominees: “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” “Winter’s Bone.”
GERMAIN: The British monarchy has staying power, and so does “The King’s Speech.” It seemed the early favorite after premiering late summer at film festivals, but the it was relegated to also-ran status once “The Social Network” debuted and began its near-sweep of critics’ honors.
Then guilds representing directors, actors and producers — whose memberships have a lot of overlap with Oscar voters — dethroned “The Social Network” by giving their top awards to “The King’s Speech.”
There’s still a chance “The Social Network” could pull off an upset. It’s a biting commentary on the here-and-now, masterfully written, produced and performed.
But “The King’s Speech” is a virtually flawless work — elegant yet enormously entertaining, regal yet slyly amusing, momentous yet deeply personal. It’s a tale of unlikely camaraderie among the highborn and the common folk and, surprisingly, an Everyman story whose Everyman just happens to be the king of England.
Old-time costume dramas such as “The King’s Speech” used to rule the Oscars, but edgy contemporary stories such as “The Social Network” have taken over in recent years. In a once-and-future-king swing back to historical pageants, “The King’s Speech” will reign come Oscar night.
LEMIRE: “The King’s Speech” is a gorgeous film, but it’s also a very safe film. It hits all the notes you expect it to hit and does so beautifully. They may as well hand out checklists at the door for all the elements that tend to appeal to Oscar voters: It’s about the British monarchy, it’s historical, it focuses on a character overcoming adversity.
“The Social Network,” meanwhile, is daring from its first moments. It grabs you with Aaron Sorkin’s smart, snappy dialogue. It moves you with David Fincher’s fluid, virtuoso directing. It takes topics that might have seemed alienating and complicated — computer coding and competing lawsuits — and makes them vibrant and almost sexy. It pulsates with energy, leaps off the screen with bold performances, and it couldn’t be more contemporary.
Who isn’t on Facebook? You probably found our Oscar picks because someone you’re “friends” with posted them there.
“The Social Network” was the early favorite to win the best picture Oscar because it truly is the best picture of the year, and the best picture for our times.
Nominees: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; David O. Russell, “The Fighter”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”; David Fincher, “The Social Network”; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “True Grit.”
LEMIRE: No one else but David Fincher could have directed “The Social Network.” Aaron Sorkin’s dense, sprawling script required a deft hand; his words, and his complex, “Rashomon”-style structure bring out the inherent sense of movement in Fincher’s directing style.
Technically, this is the least show-offy film Fincher has ever made. “The Social Network” is all about character, the drama of evolving relationships, the way greed and ambition bring people together and tear them apart. And yet he pulls off a signature Fincher-ish feat in his depiction of the Winklevoss twins, played by one actor — the commanding and charismatic Armie Hammer — in two separate roles.
Even if — heaven forbid — “The King’s Speech” is named best picture, it seems unlikely that Tom Hooper would get best director, even though he won that honor at the Directors Guild Awards, which traditionally are an excellent predictor of Oscar success.
Directing “The Social Network” simply feels like the more impressive achievement.
Nominees: Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”; Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”; Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”; Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; James Franco, “127 Hours.”
LEMIRE: Colin Firth takes what could have been a mawkish, heavy-handed role — that of England’s King George VI, overcoming a lifelong stammer with the help of his unorthodox speech therapist — and he makes it funny yet biting, subtle yet heartbreaking. He humanizes a figure who would otherwise seem aloof and remote, and makes him flawed and recognizably human.
Firth has demonstrated tremendous range over nearly three decades as an actor, from comedies such as the original “Fever Pitch,” “Love Actually” and the “Bridget Jones” movies to the dramas “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “Where the Truth Lies” to even a fantasy (“Nanny McPhee”) or a musical (“Mamma Mia!”).
He was deeply moving in a performance that earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor last year — that of a gay man mourning the death of his longtime partner in “A Single Man” — and he would have won if Jeff Bridges hadn’t also been competing in the category, and had it not been Bridges’ time to win, finally, for “Crazy Heart.”
Now, it’s Firth’s time.
Nominees: Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine.”
GERMAIN: At least Annette Bening will not lose this time to Hilary Swank, who has won in two of the three years that Bening previously had Oscar nominations.
Swank missed out on a nomination for her sturdy role in “Conviction,” and Bening probably would be a lock to win were it not for a career performance by Natalie Portman as a ballerina going bonkers in “Black Swan.”
Portman just loses herself in the role and sucks the audience in after her as her character spirals into a fantastic world of delusion. It’s one of those showy roles too irresistible to pass up for academy members, whose acting branch is the largest block of voters.
Hollywood would love to give veteran Bening an Oscar, so she and hubby Warren Beatty can have a matching set. And Bening is very deserving as a stern, sardonic yet loving mom whose same-sex spouse cheats on her in “The Kids Are All Right.”
But this is a year when Portman’s cuckoo bird beats Bening’s cuckolded lesbian.
Nominees: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”; Jeremy Renner, “The Town”; Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech.”
GERMAIN: Christian Bale used to talk about how he envied the late Heath Ledger on the set of “The Dark Knight.” As the Joker, a role that won Ledger a posthumous Oscar two years ago, Ledger got to carom around with wicked abandon in a supporting role while Bale had to remain all anal and repressed in the title role as Batman.
With “The Fighter,” it was Bale’s turn to carom in the supporting role. As boxer-turned-drug-abuser-and-criminal Dicky Eklund, Bale bobs and weaves and rants and brays around lead player Mark Wahlberg. Bale jabbers and pulsates with a ferocity that’s truly surprising given the many stoic, tightly wound roles he has played.
He faces superb competition. Mark Ruffalo’s prince of laid-back charm in “The Kids Are All Right,” John Hawkes nearly out-Bales Bale for quiet menace in “Winter’s Bone” and Geoffrey Rush practically steals “The King’s Speech,” a huge accomplishment given how extraordinary Colin Firth is in the title role.
But Bale does steal “The Fighter” from Wahlberg in the same way Ledger stole “The Dark Knight” from him. And now Bale will follow fallen pal Ledger as an Oscar winner.
Nominees: Amy Adams, “The Fighter”; Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”; Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom.”
GERMAIN: Melissa Leo just would not go quietly, the way most moderately successful actresses do once they hit 40.
After presumably peaking as a regular on TV’s acclaimed “Homicide: Life on the Street” in her 30s, Leo surged back in her late 40s and now 50s with two Oscar nominations, including this one for her role as the overbearing matriarch of a boxing clan in “The Fighter.”
Actors love her, figuring if she can do it, why not them? Some may love her a little less after Leo paid for her own Hollywood trade ads to rustle up Oscar votes, a move that generally smacks of desperation.
But backlash from Leo’s ads won’t deprive her of an Oscar. Hailee Steinfeld will.
With a remarkable film debut, 14-year-old Steinfeld has vaulted into the ranks of child stars. Just like her character — a precocious teen who hires a lawman to track her father’s killer in “True Grit” — Steinfeld shows poise and self-possession far beyond her years.
And this is the one category where both debut performances and child actors have had Oscar success. The youngest actors to win Oscars — 10-year-old Tatum O’Neal for “Paper Moon,” 11-year-old Anna Paquin for “The Piano” and 16-year-old Patty Duke for “The Miracle Worker” — all earned their awards as supporting actress.
Steinfeld is about to join them.