Predicting the Oscar Nominations, or The Definition of Insanity

It’s odd to be able to accurately use the phrase “decades of futility” about a personal endeavor. But the simple fact is that it was over twenty years ago the first time I challenged my friend and movie review show colleague to a duel, each of us taking a stab at predicting the Oscar nominees for the top six awards: Best Picture, Best Directing and all four acting categories. We’ve revived the skirmish nearly every year since. We’ve tied twice, he’s won nineteen times, and I’ve never won. Ever.

In my tepid defense, we’re both quite good at this. It’s not as if I’m some lunkhead who’s arguing that Russell Crowe is going to sneak into the Best Actor race for Robin Hood because, you know, he’s won before and stuff. During many of these years, both he and I have correctly guessed around 80-85% of the nominees. He just always seems to get one or two more than I do. I’m good, he’s better.

But I just know that the windmill can fall, so here I go again, charging into battle. Below are my final, official predictions for the Academy Award nominations that will be announced tomorrow. And below that, for the first time I have the honor of presenting the predictions of my cohort, Mr. Steven P. Senski, in this digital space. If you just want to skip down to those to get what will undoubtedly be a more accurate bit of prognostication, well, I wouldn’t blame you.

So the nominees will be:

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

I don’t deviate much from the consensus expectations here. These are the five actresses who were cited by the Golden Globes, and all but Weaver are in the mix for the SAG award. Before the Globe win, I might have thought Leo was vulnerable because it can be tough to squeeze in two actors from the same film, but I think that was my own lukewarm reaction to the performance. Otherwise, I actually wouldn’t be shocked in Kunis was left off. I think she’s terrific in Black Swan–arguably even stronger than Portman–but she’s also fairly young and boasts a filmography that doesn’t exactly signal a future Oscar contender.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

My most significant gamble here is guessing that John Hawkes will repeat his SAG nomination even as other advance signals make it appear that Winter’s Bone is fading in the overall awards race.

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

Again, there are no real shocks here. These five have been in the mix the whole time. It feels odd leaving Julianne Moore off, but after she was omitted for her supporting turn in A Single Man last year, it felt like she moved into this weird stasis, as if they’re not going to nominate her again until it’s a performance they’re sure she’ll win for. Her next nomination will be her fifth, and that’s around the point in recent years that a win becomes nearly obligatory. Also, there’s been recent speculation that Hailee Steinfeld could get into this category for True Grit. As deserving as that would be, I think the studio spent too much time foolishly pushing her for Supporting, despite the little detail that she’s in damn near every scene of the movie. I suspect her support wound up getting split.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

This is the category that I think is most likely to blow up in my face. Not because these five don’t look right, but because there are so many combinations of actors that could feasibly land here. Jeff Bridges and Ryan Gosling have been nominated for other significant awards, and the sympathy vote for Michael Douglas could easily translate into support for his admired work in Solitary Man. Further, I can muster up rationale for every one of these actors except Firth getting snubbed tomorrow. My riskiest pick might be Wahlberg for The Fighter, but so much of the talk surrounding that movie has focused on his tireless efforts to bring it to the screen, that I think his fellow actors will want to reward his perseverance.

Best Direction
Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky
Inception, Christopher Nolan
The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper
The Social Network, David Fincher
True Grit, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

There’s usually some sort of a surprise in the directing category, so I dutifully transcribe the DGA Award nominees and change one. I think True Grit has become a significant enough hit (and, let’s face it, is a strong enough movie) that the Coens will be cited. And thus the transformation from weirdo rebels on the fringe to establishment standard-bearers will be improbably complete. I suspect that David O. Russell slips off because of the potential perception that The Fighter is less of a “director’s movie,” which I think unduly downgrades his contribution to that particular work. Also, his reputation for on-set freak-outs has got to make at least a few directors a little less likely to support him.

Best Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

That list looks right to me, but who knows. Without double-checking, I think I was eight out of ten last year, but I don’t claim to completely have a handle on predicting the expanded list yet. I have a feeling the move to ten is going to make the Best Picture list look a little loony one of these years. It surely could be this one.

Okay, that’s enough from me. As we used to say on the radio show, I’ll turn things over to the other side of the board. Take it away, Steve:

For the last 21 years, my great friend and movie analyzing cohort from my Reel Thing radio salad days – Mr. Dan Seeger – and I have participated in the annual ritual of predicting the nominees in the Big Six categories. Now, modesty forbids me from saying what my record for wins has been over the years, but since I’m typing this, modesty be damned; it’s 19-0-2. Nineteen wins, no losses, and two ties.

And it all comes to an end this year. Since he has gone on to movie reviewing for the folks over at Spectrum Culture, I have gone on to leave my local cineplex mourning my once-corpulent presence. There was a time when I saw 200+ films in a cinema per year, but those days are gone…and considering how much I’ve come to loathe sharing films with the masses (really, where has our consideration of others gone lately?), I can’t say that I really miss them. However, traditions are traditions, and I come to this year’s predictions relying on instinct. And that’s why I have three movies each producing a pair of female acting nominees — my complimentary Kiss of Death. This simple action alone should guarantee his victory. It was a great run, and I’m proud of my record, but the crown has grown heavy, and I’m all about shedding weight these days.

And if I win? Just like a typical critic; I have opinions on films and performances I’ve never seen, and I’m always right. 🙂

Let’s go to the nominees, shall we? And may fortune favor the foolish.

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
Shutter Island
The Social Network
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
David Fincher, The Social Network