Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oscar Predictions 09, part 2: Acting

Hello again, and welcome back to our dangerous foray into my bizarre obsessions. Today, we'll be cataloguing and collecting specimens of work that warrant consideration with the acting branches of the Academy. There are four: Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress.

Best Actor
This category is looking fairly crazy this year. It's chock full of veteran actors looking to receive a lifetime achievement award, newbies trying to finally be noticed for their talent, and movies stars having another go at it, all in one.
On the veteran's side, we have four likely contenders: The first, and most would say front-runner, is Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Though the film has yet to be released to the public, early screenings suggest a career-best performance from an actor who's been nominated four times, but has never taken the gold. This could very easily go his way. His strongest competition comes from Colin Firth for A Single Man, who has already won the Venice Film Festival Award for best actor. Like Bridges, Firth is a respected actor who has yet to be feted by the Academy, and is gathering "performance of a lifetime" laurels. A two-horse race, perhaps? Not to be counted out is Morgan Freeman in Invictus. Honestly, it doesn't matter how good the movie is. He's Morgan Freeman. He's playing Nelson Mandela. He gets in on general principle. A possible dark horse veteran: Hal Holbrook in That Evening Sun. He's got the pedigree and the reviews, but I think the film is just too small and understated to make it in.
The middle-aged and well-respected come next. First and foremost: George Clooney in Up in the Air. This man seems to age like fine wine, and the Academy loves him the more for it. There's no way he won't be recognized for what many call his best performance. Daniel Day-Lewis also has a strong chance for Nine. Admittedly, his role doesn't seem too showy or over-the-top, and the Academy loves Day-Lewis when he's being showy, but he could still have the juice to make it if the film's a big hit. And I can't, in good conscience, count out Viggo Mortensen in The Road. Though the film has gotten mixed reviews, critical acclaim has been universal for his portrayal of a father pushed to his limits. He could easily make it in if some of the unseen contenders above fall through the cracks.
Last, but certainly not least: the new kids on the block. One name: Jeremy Renner. The Hurt Locker. Some people are saying the role isn't showy or big enough, but I'll be damned if the Academy doesn't recognize the slow-boiling masterwork that Renner's performance is. I say he's in. James MacAvoy, in The Last Station, also has a chance. He's proven himself in the past (Atonement, The Last King of Scotland), and it could be his time to get welcomed to the club. Will the film be big enough?
My nomination predictions, in order of likelihood:
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Alternate: Viggo Mortensen, The Road, Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

Best Actress
This category is just the opposite of best actor: where best actor is full of veterans looking for their due, this category is stuffed to the brim with young actresses with performances that can't be ignored. Really, there's only one slot up for grabs. Four performances this year have already stood out, and will almost undoubtedly be nominated. They are:
Meryl Streep for Julie and Julia. People love her impassioned portrayal of Julia Child. Plus, she's Meryl Streep, and has been nominated fifteen times. Fifteen times. They'd nominate her for reading the newspaper.
Helen Mirren in The Last Station. This performance as Leo Tolstoy's wife is supposed to be very showy: Mirren doesn't just chew the scenery, she rips it apart, swallows it, digests it, and regurgitates it in a new and improved form.
Abbie Cornish in An Education. This 22-year old's breakout role is a real acting revelation. There's no way the Academy won't sit up and recognize it.
Same goes for Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. She's young, but a natural. People's heads are turning.
That leaves one spot. But who will take it? Most pundits are lining up for Abbie Cornish in Bright Star, but that film has essentially sunk, in terms of buzz. I think it'd be a miracle for her to make it in. Saorise Ronan, of The Lovely Bones, has a chance, for her role as a murdered teen who watches her family from the afterlife. One problem, though: she's only fifteen, and has already been nominated once. Will they really want to reward her again so early in life? Penelope Cruz also has a chance to make it in for Broken Embraces, based solely on the fact that people do seem to love her right now, since the movie itself hasn't made much of a splash. The most likely possibility, however, is Marion Cotillard for Nine. Screenings of the film early this week had people raving for her performance. She could easily make it in on the coattails of the film, if it turns out to be successful.
My predicted five:
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Alternate: Abbie Cornish, Bright Star, Saorise Ronan, The Lovely Bones

Supporting Actor
God, this category looks so weak right now. There are two legit contenders, and three guesses based solely on film pedigree. Past that, there are a few hopefuls that only have a chance because of the dearth of other worthy contenders.
The two legit contenders: Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Alfred Molina in An Education. Waltz was easily the most memorable performance of the summer, and is a great villain, which the Academy loves in this category. Alfred Molina has gotten many tongues wagging for his worried father, and he seems like a lock, even if I didn't particularly respond to his performance.
The three guesses: Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones, Christopher Plummer for The Last Station, and Matt Damon for Invictus. Tucci plays a villain, which the Academy loves. He's in, assuming the film is good. Same for Plummer: he's a due veteran playing a known real-life figure (Leo Tolstoy). Damon is only in talks because, well, he's in a Clint Eastwood movie and we need to talk about someone, don't we?
As far as other contenders are concerned: Peter Sarsgaard, the best supporting performance in An Education for my dollar. He could get in if Invictus or The Lovely Bones turns out to be bad. Same for Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker. He could easily make it if the Academy embraces his film more than we think it will. Lastly: Stanly Tucci for Julie and Julia. If The Lovely Bones fails, assume that Tucci will get in for this one. He's had a great career run of late, and it's his time for recognition. It just depends on which role they want to reward.
My predicted five:
Cristoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
Alfred Molina, An Education
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Matt Damon, Invictus
Alternate: Peter Sarsgaard, An Education, Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker

Supporting Actress
This category, on the other hand, is just rife with potential contenders. Doesn't matter however, because Mo'Nique is gonna win. No contest. Sorry. Still, there are four other people who can say that 'it's an honor to be nominated,' right? Four movies dominate this category, and all of them could have multiple women nominated.
Precious will undoubtedly see Mo'Nique's abusive mother nominated. Also in the mix, however, are Paula Patton as a caring teacher, and Mariah Carey (no kidding) as a down-to-earth therapist. I don't like the last two actresses' chances, however. It's just going to be too hard to get out from under Mo'Nique's impressive shadow.
Nine is bursting with talented thespians. Most likely to stand out are Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench. Don't rule out Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, or Sophia Loren, however.
Up in the Air offers up two (reportedly) great performances from Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. I don't think both will get in, and Kendrick's performance is showier. Draw your own conclusions.
Similarly, The Lovely Bones has the potential for two great supporting performances: Rachel Weisz as a grieving mother and Susan Sarandon as a spunky grandmother. Right now, I'll go with Sarandon based on respect, but Rachel Weisz is a very talented actress, and could easily knock this one out of the park. We'll know in a few weeks, I suppose.
One woman stands in the way of one of these films getting two ladies recognized, however. That's Julianne Moore in A Single Man. She's reportedly fantastic, and the Academy's really going to have to snub its nose at the film for her to not make it in.
My predicted five:
Mo'Nique, Precious
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Alternate: Judi Dench, Nine, Rachel Weisz, The Lovely Bones

There we are for now. Later: screenplays. Stay tuned!

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