Of course, Oscar night has posed some challenges to me the past couple years. Thanks to -- stop me if you think you've heard this one before -- my packed work schedule and the fact that my local multiplex would rather show Ghost Rider on multiple screens than bring in a smaller film like The Descendants, it's gotten harder for me to see films nominated for best picture, particularly since it often would involve having to drive an hour or more away to find a theatre showing the film I need to track down. And yet, I still get excited as the ceremony draws closer. I still read as many articles as I can about the nominated films. And I still make my own predictions even though I haven't seen as many of the nominees as I'd like.
With that said, here are both my predictions for tonight as well as the nominees I would vote for if I had the chance. (BTW -- Spoilers may be included below, so read at your own risk.)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
Who will win?: The industry wisdom seems to be that The Artist has this one in the bag. It's a great film, and it's refreshing that a silent, black and white movie can still garner attention in today's landscape filled with explosions and cgi-magic. For the first thirty minutes or so of the film, I thought it was more of a Singin' in the Rain knockoff, but as the film progressed, I felt the story progressed into more of a treatise on our chaotic world. The scene where George Valentin has his noise-filled dream yet is unable to make a noise himself was incredibly moving, and there's no doubt that Jean Dujardin's portrayal of a man facing down the reality of becoming a dinosaur in a world moving on without him is powerful, made even more so in that it is done completely without sound. (And how heartbreaking is the end of the film when we do finally hear Valentin speak in his thick French accent and realize that there is no way he'd be able to have a successful acting career in talking pictures?) Yes, I know The Artist is a pretentious and hypocritical choice, but when has Hollywood ever been anything but pretentious and hypocritical?
How I would vote: As much as I liked The Artist, it wasn't my favorite of the films nominated this year. (I should note that I have seen all of the nominees for best picture except War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.) I thought The Tree of Life was a bit obnoxious, though beautiful to look at. I really liked Moneyball and Midnight in Paris -- films that managed to be both smart and entertaining, a rare commodity in Hollywood some days. I found Hugo absolutely lovely, and The Help was a terrific adaptation of a book I really liked. If I were voting, though, I'd go with The Descendants. This was a spectacular film -- funny, moving, beautifully acted, beautifully written, skillfully directed. I could spend hours talking about how many incredible moments exist in this film. I love how Alexander Payne played with the power of silence in key moments such as the one where little Scottie finds out her mother is going to die or the final scene where Matt and his daughters scatter his wife's ashes in the ocean. I love the depth given to each character, particularly stoner boyfriend Sid. And any movie that makes you believe that a woman would actually cheat on George Clooney with Matthew Lillard is working some pretty powerful magic. Unfortunately, the Academy rarely recognizes films like this as Best Picture, and it's too bad because this is truly a brilliant piece of cinema.
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Who will win? This may be the most contested race of the night as Clooney and Dujardin face off. Clooney has won the Golden Globe and the National Board of Review. Dujardin has won the BAFTA, a Golden Globe (The Artist was nominated in the comedy category, The Descendants in drama), Independent Spirit, and the Screen Actors Guild as well as taking Best Actor at Cannes. When you list off the awards, Dujardin has the edge until you factor in that this is Hollywood voting and Clooney is their king. When you consider that this is probably the best acting performance Clooney has ever turned in, and you have to give the edge to Clooney over Dujardin.
How I would vote: I'd go with Clooney, too. There is a complexity to the work Clooney turns in here that needs to be recognized. There isn't a false moment for a second that Clooney is onscreen in The Descendants. Yes, Dujardin's work was moving, but Clooney's was brilliant.
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 will win? Streep was kind of a shocker winner at the Golden Globes since critics pretty much decided last summer that Davis would sweep the awards season with her nuanced portrayal of Aibeleen in The Help. I still think it's Davis's to lose tonight. Of course Meryl Streep is brilliant in The Iron Lady -- something I can say without having even seen The Iron Lady. I mean, it's Meryl Streep. Not being brilliant isn't part of her vocabulary. There's no surprise, no revelation in Meryl being brilliant. Viola Davis, though, has rarely been on lists of "great contemporary actresses", so the fact that she brought such depth and tenderness to her work in The Help is surprising and revelatory and can make Hollywood feel like they're discovering something new.
How I would vote: I'd go with Davis, too, although I really loved Rooney Mara's work in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I'm sure that the day has to eventually come where Michelle Williams will be more than just an indy darling but a certified star.
Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Who will win? Christopher Plummer -- no question. I've not seen any of the nominees outside of Jonah Hill, so I can't really comment one way or the other as to whether Plummer's frontrunner status is earned or based more in sentimentality, but the dude has pretty much swept the circuit this season, so why should tonight be any different?
How I would vote: Again, I've only seen Moneyball, so I don't know how I would vote. I will say that Jonah Hill's work was really terrific in Moneyball, and it's unfortunate that he seems to be gravitating to more junk films like 21 Jump Street rather than pursuing more serious work like Moneyball.
Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Who will win? This is Spencer's to lose. Her work in The Help was absolutely gorgeous. She gave Minnie such life and depth, life and depth that wasn't always apparent on the page. Here's hoping this lands her more work because Hollywood needs her.
How I would vote: First of all, it's criminal that Shailene Woodley's name is not on this list. Her work in The Descendants was more subtle and nuanced than anyone who had ever watched The Secret Life of the American Teenager would ever think possible. Guys, Amy Jurgens can act!! With Woodley's absence from this list, yes, the easy vote would be for Octavia Spencer, but my personal vote would go with Melissa McCarthy. In a perfect world, the Oscars would recognize that a good comedy can be just as worthy of award recognition as a good drama. The work that McCarthy gave in Bridesmaids was brilliant -- fearless, hilarious, and full of heart. The film itself should have been nominated for best picture, but a win here would be a chance to recognize one of the best films of 2011.
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicious, The Artist (even though I think Alexander Payne turned in the best directed film of the year).
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris -- the most inventive script of the year. I think this will be one area where The Artist won't dominate if only in that it's hard to recognize the script of a film without dialogue. (I'm not going to lie, though -- I'm totally rooting for Kristen Wiig here!)
Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, The Descendants -- This is where films like The Descendants get their proverbial bone. Look at the history -- some of the great films of the past couple decades have not won best picture but have won a screenplay award -- Sling Blade, LA Confidential, Sideways, The Social Network --many of them films that SHOULD have won Best Picture. (It's even more obvious when you look at the list of Original Screenplay winners.) This is definitely the best script of the year, although props have to be given to Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for making Moneyball, which is essentially a movie about economics and baseball statistics an engrossing and entertaining film.