2011 Oscar Preview

     November 26, 2010

The holiday season is officially upon us. While that means copious amounts of cholesterol and decidedly awkward confrontations with family members, it also makes for a few days of fairly slow news. So with that, what better time than now to start seriously thinking about the Oscars? Awards season is in full swing, and the majority of the “Oscar-bait” films have been seen, so we can now begin to put together some lists that actually make sense.  After scouring the field, we’ve broken down all the major categories and compiled what we see to be the frontrunners, likely nominations, and outside contenders in each race.

Before we begin, a quick reminder. This is still quite early in the Oscar season. While it’s true that most of the films have been seen and it’s decidedly easier to predict nominees at this time, choosing the winner is a bit tougher. A lot could change between now and February, or things could stay pretty much the same. We just don’t know. But this is how the races seem to be stacking up at the moment.  So what are you waiting for? Hit the jump and let the guessing game begin.

The-Social-Network-movie-poster-David FincherBest Picture


The King’s Speech

The Social Network

127 Hours

Likely to be nominated:

Black Swan


Toy Story 3

The Kids are All Right

True Grit

The Fighter

Outside contenders:

Blue Valentine

The Town

Winter’s Bone

Never Let Me Go

Shutter Island

The Best Picture race has been a dogfight between The King’s Speech and The Social Network for the past couple of months, but since 127 Hours started screening in the last few weeks, the flick has been moving up the list fast. The King’s Speech is the typical Oscar-bait juggernaut: it’s a period piece, it involves a disabled person overcoming obstacles, and it’s set in England; not to mention, it’s one hell of a film. The Social Network is the film that’s had everyone talking. It invaded the zeitgeist with its generation-defining story, one of the most respected directors in the business, and quite possibly the best script Aaron Sorkin has written (which is really saying something). Before its release, early word on 127 Hours was good, but the film has gained some serious traction since it started screening a couple of weeks ago, particularly in James Franco’s powerhouse performance. Could the Slumdog Millionaire Oscar-winning duo of Director Danny Boyle and Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have another surprise win on their hands? At this point, it’s a little too early to tell, but if anything was going to spoil King’s Speech or Social Network right now, it would be 127 HoursBlack Swan is another serious contender, but there’s fear that its intensity may be too much for some of the older voters in the Academy. But there’s no denying that the film has its passionate advocates.  Inception was refreshingly original in a summer full of duds, but it may be seen as too commercial for the big win. Disney-Pixar is aiming for the top prize with Toy Story 3, but it’s also a bit of a long shot to win. It just doesn’t seem to have the muscle to elbow out some of the bigger films, even though it may have garnered the most emotional response out of viewers of any film this year. As for True Grit, nobody has even seen the film yet. But if one thing can be learned from Oscar seasons past, never count out the Coen brothers. So let’s just say we’re cautiously optimistic at the moment.

Best Director


David Fincher – The Social Network

Danny Boyle – 127 Hours

Likely to be nominated:

Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech

Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan

Christopher Nolan – Inception

Outside contenders:

Joel & Ethan Coen – True Grit

Peter Weir – The Way Back

Lisa Cholodenko – The Kids Are All Right

The Best Director race is understandably similar to the Best Picture race at the moment. Fincher’s work in The Social Network shows masterful restraint, and Boyle managed to make a film which largely takes place in a small rock cavern visually invigorating. With The King’s Speech being a frontrunner for Best Picture, you can expect Hooper to be at the top of the list of the Director race. Of the 82 films that have won Best Picture, 60 of them have also won Best Director, so these two categories are very closely tied together. And with the list of Best Picture nominees expanded to ten, many look to this category to determine the 5 “real” Best Picture nominees. It would be surprising if either Aronofsky or Nolan were overlooked; both of their films are obviously Director-driven, not to mention wholly original. If True Grit lives up to the hype, expect the Coen brothers to be nominated as well. Weir could be the wild-card in this category. He’s been nominated for Best Director four times in his career, and is something of an Academy favorite.  Then again, it’s also conceivable to think that someone like Cholodenko or David O. Russell could pick up the last slot.

Best Actor


Colin Firth – The King’s Speech

James Franco – 127 Hours

Likely to be nominated:

Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network

Mark Wahlberg – The Fighter

Robert Duvall – Get Low

Outside contenders:

Javier Bardem – Biutiful

Jeff Bridges – True Grit

Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine

Leonardo DiCaprio – Inception

Yet again we come back to King’s Speech, Social Network, and 127 Hours. Firth was long thought to be the frontrunner by a fairly wide margin, but Franco’s performance has been getting a great deal of attention lately. Eisenberg’s a bit of a long shot; I see the nomination being his consolation this year. Bardem has some serious buzz for his performance, and could be a dark horse. Gosling could very easily garner a nomination given his pedigree and respect in the industry. Again, no one’s seen True Grit, so he’s a bit of a question mark at this point, but it would be neat to see Bridges win two years in a row (only Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy have accomplished this feat).

Best Actress


Natalie Portman – Black Swan

Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right

Likely to be nominated:

Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone

Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole

Outside contenders:

Michelle Williams – Blue Valentine

Tilda Swinton – I Am Love

The Best Actress race is one of the closest right now. Both Portman and Bening have been garnering nothing but raves for their performances and it’s very much a coin toss at this point. Everyone else in this category should be happy with a nomination, because this is a two-woman race.  Lawrence is an exciting newcomer and Kidman is an Academy favorite.

Best Supporting Actor


Christian Bale – The Fighter

Geoffrey Rush – The King’s Speech

Likely to be nominated:

Mark Ruffalo – The Kids Are All Right

Sam Rockwell – Conviction

Michael Douglas – Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Outside contenders:

Armie Hammer – The Social Network

Andrew Garfield – The Social Network

Ed Harris – The Way Back

This could finally be Bale’s year, after incredible performances in just about every role he takes on (I think we can safely pretend like Terminator: Salvation never happened now, right?). His work in The Fighter has everyone talking, and at the moment this category looks like his to lose.  However, Rush could very well pull an upset. He hasn’t won since Shine and his role in The King’s Speech seems right up the Academy’s alley. Douglas’ cancer scare will more than likely have the Academy thinking of him, though whether he gets nominated for Wall Street or Solitary Man is a bit of a toss-up. Given the nostalgia for the role, and the resonance with today’s economic times, Wall Street may be the better bet. Rockwell does some great work in Conviction, but he most likely has a better role in him somewhere down the line that the Academy will reward him for (that guilt for snubbing him for Moon has to catch up sometime).  Hammer and Garfield turned in fine performances in Social Network, but they may be a bit too young. However, the Supporting categories always seem to be where the out-of-left-field nominee comes from every year, so Hammer or Garfield (or even Timberlake) could still be a possibility.

Best Supporting Actress


Melissa Leo – The Fighter

Julianne Moore – The Kids Are All Right

Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech

Likely to be nominated:

Dianne Weist – Rabbit Hole

Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom

Amy Adams – The Fighter

Outside contenders:

Mila Kunis – Black Swan

Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit

Although Moore’s performance in The Kids are All Right is definitely a leading role, if Focus Features is smart they’ll move her to the Supporting category. They would avoid her splitting votes with Bening in Best Actress, and both women would have a far greater chance of winning in their respective categories (and deservedly so). Bonham Carter also has a decent shot, as do indie-darlings Weist and Weaver. Adams is also a safe bet; there’s no denying the girl’s talent and she’s due to win one of these someday.  Again, True Grit is a bit of a shot in the dark, but the Supporting categories love child-newcomers in breakthrough performances.

So that’s it. This is where we stand three months out from the ceremony. As I said, a lot can change and a lot can stay the same. Expect the frontrunners to fluctuate a bit as buzz moves up and down, but it’s rare that new frontrunners come from out of the blue in the middle of December (though that’s exactly what happened with Jeff Bridges last year). Nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards will be announced on January 25th, and the ceremony will be held on February 27th. Expect more coverage as the date comes closer.

So what do you think? Any we missed? Any dark-horse candidates you see as potential spoilers?

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