In which I pick this year’s Oscar winners cold

Oh, hooray!  My favorite month in entertainment has begun — the Oscar nominations have been announced.  And because from time to time I like to demonstrate how full of crap I am capable of being, I am going to give you my picks for this year’s winners.

For your reading pleasure, I’m going to do so today when it’s more of a risky pick.  The only “major” awards we’ve had so far are the Golden Globes, which are nigh unto worthless as Oscar omens.  (As I never tire of mentioning, Madonna won one for acting, for which she beat Frances McDormand in “Fargo.”  Strong work, Hollywood Foreign Press Association!)  Because actors comprise the largest voting bloc in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a much better predictor of who’ll be holding their award is who went home with one from the Screen Actors Guild.  (It was a sign of the horror that was to follow when “Crash” won the “Best Ensemble” SAG award, which is their version of Best Picture.  “Crash” then did win Best Picture, despite not only being not the best picture nominated but also objectively an awful, awful film.)  You can more confidently fill out your scorecard on Saturday after seeing the winners from Friday night.

But no!  Boldly shall I give you my predictions today!  Such is the stout heart of Saunders!

Let’s start from the bottom of the Times article announcing the nominees in the less prestigious categories:

Supporting actor nominees were Kenneth Branagh for “My Week With Marilyn”; Nick Nolte for “Warrior”; Jonah Hill for “Moneyball”; Christopher Plummer for “Beginners”; and Max von Sydow for “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”

I’m going with Plummer.  He gets points for being a venerated and well-respected actor, and he’s never won before.  His only major competitor will be Branagh, for similar reasons.  Nobody has seen either Nolte’s or von Sydow’s films (I hadn’t even heard of the former), and for a comedic actor like Hill the nomination is reward enough and recognition of his talents beyond his earlier roles.

For Best Supporting Actress, there’s Melissa McCarthy for “Bridesmades,” plus:

Other supporting actress nominations went to Bérénice Bejo for “The Artist”; both Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for “The Help”; and Janet McTeer for “Albert Nobbs.”

I’m going to make a riskier guess and go with McCarthy.  When the Academy chooses to reward comedic roles, it often does so in the supporting actor categories.  (See here, here and here.)  McCarthy has generated enormous good will for her role, to the point that she probably won her Emmy for it rather than for her TV work.  Bejo is an unknown (to Americans) French actress, and foreign-born winners tend to have established themselves as stars in America.  (Javier Bardem was kind of borderline famous, but his performance in “No Country for Old Men” was such a knock-out that it made his win obvious.  His wife Penelope Cruz is a more typical winner.)  Spencer is the strongest other nominee in the category, given her very positive reviews for “The Help.”  Chastain was in a lot this past year, and I suspect the Academy is rewarding her with the nomination for both this and also “Tree of Life.”  Maybe three people in total have seen “Albert Nobbs.”

Among the best actor nominees, Mr. Clooney (“The Descendants”), Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) and Brad Pitt (“Moneyball”) appeared in films that have now edged within reach of a best picture Oscar. Demián Bichir, who played an illegal immigrant gardener in “A Better Life,” and Gary Oldman, a spy hunter in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” were also nominated.

I think this will be between Clooney and Pitt.  While Dujardin stars in the film that I think is going to be the eventual Best Picture winner, he’s up against two superstars.  He pull a Cotillard and score a surprise victory for a foreign-language film, but I think this year the Academy is going to reward a big name.  I’d give the edge to Pitt, since Clooney already has an Oscar (albeit a less prestigious supporting actor win).  He’s been around forever, he’s super-famous, he’s been nominated a couple of times before, he starred in another prestige film this year (“Tree of Life”), so he’s probably due.  Oldman’s film (like many others) is well-respected but too small, and if there’s going to be a non-American winner it will be Dujardin, not Bichir.

In a seeming disconnect, only one best actress nominee, Viola Davis of “The Help,” appeared in a film nominated for best picture. Other nominees in the category were Glenn Close, for playing a woman who played a man in “Albert Nobbs”; Meryl Streep, as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, both in and past her prime, in “The Iron Lady”; Rooney Mara, as the damaged soul in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”; and Michelle Williams, as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn.”

My dime is on Davis.  Eventually they’re going to have to give Meryl Streep another Oscar, but “The Iron Lady” is getting mixed reviews.  (She didn’t help matters with her uncharacteristically graceless Golden Globe acceptance speech.  There were only four other nominees, Meryl.  It would have been nice for you to have memorized all of them.)  Mara is getting the ingenue nomination, and the Academy probably suspects further award-caliber work from her in the future.  (Same with Chastain, above.)  Davis got the best reviews for the biggest hit of the Best Picture nominees and has respect to spare for both screen and stage work.  The only real competition is from Williams, who’s been nominated twice before.  I think the box office heft of “The Help” gives Davis the clear edge.  I hope Glenn Close wins an Oscar one of these days, but that will require her to star in a film with more buzz.

Back to the bottom of the article for Best Director:

[T]he directing nominations went to Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist”; Alexander Payne for “The Descendants”; Woody Allen for “Midnight in Paris”; and Martin Scorsese for “Hugo,” along with Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life.” Only Mr. Hazanavicius has not previously been nominated in the category.

Forget Hazanavicius — too unknown against this field.  I’d say probably not Allen (too indifferent to the Academy, and awards shows in general) or Scorsese (finally won his long-deserved Oscar too recently).  “Tree of Life” was, by all accounts, a very director-ish film.  But it was also quite polarizing, with some people loving its unusual structure and weird conceits and other people… not.  I’m betting on Payne — his film got a Best Picture nod and stars George Clooney, and he’s directed numerous critical darlings in the past.  (Full disclosure — I thought “Sideways” was ridiculously overrated.)

Last but not least:

A chaotic Oscar season found some order on Tuesday, as “The Artist,” a mostly silent tribute to old Hollywood, and “Hugo,” another bit of film nostalgia, joined “The Descendants,” about life and love in Hawaii, and “Midnight in Paris,”about literary Paris, in scoring an array of major nominations, including those for best picture and best director.

In a field of nine best-picture nominees — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pegged the number on a sliding scale after experimenting for two years with a list of 10 — “The Help,” about race relations, “War Horse,” about a fighting horse, “Moneyball,” about the business side of baseball, and two surprises, “The Tree of Life” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” all found a place. But none showed quite as strong as the leaders.

I think it’s going to be “The Artist.”  I’m going to bet that its box office numbers take off after this nomination, and Hollywood looooooooves to reward movies about itself (or film-making, acting, etc.)  The only bona fide hit in the line-up is “The Help,” and it got a mixed reception regarding its depiction of race relations.  None of the other films made enough of an impact, so I’m guess the late-breaking buzz helps “The Artist” and gives it the win.

So, there you are.  When I do my Oscar recap on February 27th, we’ll see how I did.  Anyone want to make their guesses in the comments?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


    • Whether Streep wins is wholly unrelated to the quality of her performance. (See 14 of her previous 16 nominations.) She is pretty much universally acknowledged to be the premier screen actress of her generation, or maybe any generation. She is amazingly good in everything. I thought she was going to get her “it’s been ages since you actually won one” Oscar for “Julie & Julia.” She might well win this year. But since she’s always excellent and she hasn’t won in decades, I don’t see why this would be her year.

      • Really? Nobody thinks Rooney Mara? I dunno- relatively new actress with a performance the critics are calling a “revelation” even though the movie wasn’t anything special…

        • The only time I can think of where a relatively unknown actress won for a truly remarkable performance was Hilary Swank for “Boys Don’t Cry.” The upstart performers more generally get supporting wins. Best Actor and Actress usually go for decent-to-great performances by established stars, though the quality varies. (An example of a lesser-quality win was Helen Hunt’s Best Actress award for her remarkable performance playing Helen Hunt in “As Good As It Gets.”)

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