Every year our reading week is eclipsed by the most exciting awards ceremony of the year. Brandish it all you want for the cheesy, long-winded speeches and Hollywood bravado, but at the end of the day the Oscars are the highest form of recognition for the most mass-distributed art form in existence.
As someone who’s watched the Academy Awards every year ever since her mother would let her stay up past 11 p.m., I feel poised to make this year’s predictions for all you avid cinephiles and celebrity gossip mongers.
But in all my years of watching the Oscars, there’s always been a discrepancy between who should win the award and who will the award. Oscar karma is a big factor in deciding winners, because the Academy will often choose someone who’s been snubbed in the past over the most talented performer of the year so as to restore their image of righteous film talent scout.
This year’s roster of nominees covers all types of films that have recently appeared on the list, including several oddball picks for which the Academy deserves props. We have introspective dramedies with An Education and Up in the Air. We have serious character studies with a dash of social commentary in A Single Man, Crazy Heart, Invictus and the Oprah-produced Precious. The Messenger and The Hurt Locker offer two congruent perspectives on the Iraq War.
Science-fiction is also well-represented with Avatar and the slightly more surprising—but thoroughly deserving—District 9. Inglourious Basterds also received several nods with one for best actor, one for best director and one for best picture. Few saw that coming, but the bizarro brilliance of Quentin Tarantino deserves much credit.
So without further ado, here are my picks for who on the nominee list delivered the most stand-out performances of the year and predictions for who will take home the statue. It’s a tough call in many cases and given the diversity of the films nominated, anything could happen on Sunday.
Who should win: Up in the Air
Jason Reitman’s second work on the Best Picture list is his best yet. It’s highly topical with its illustration of recessionary plights. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who spends most of his time travelling for his job working for a company contracted to fire people. When a new employee decides to restructure the company by setting up a webcam system for firing people, Bingham’s jet-set single lifestyle is jeopardized. The movie is an incredible emotional journey and uniquely explores the need for human connection in the context of today’s economically-turbulent world.
Who will win: The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker is a great movie that provides a unique artistic rendering of a pertinent issue that has become somewhat caught up in today’s political rhetoric. It does for the Iraq War what Crash (which took best picture in 2005) did for racism, which is present its stark reality through ground-level inspection. It’s the best film yet to deal with the Iraq War that captures its ominous setting resoundingly through phenomenal direction. In my mind, it doesn’t yield any earth-shattering revelations on the war, but its attempt to do so is likely to be lauded by the Academy.
Who should win: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Bigelow is the star of this movie, moving actors like chess pieces through the hazy minefield of Baghdad. Her direction makes the soldiers’ anxiety reverberate throughout the film, but it’s the brief yet crafty scenes of the soldiers dealings with local Iraqis that send her message home. Bigelow masterfully keeps the mood intense and viewers locked in through a variety of situations and even through fleeting but important storylines. If she wins, Bigelow will also be the first woman to win Best Director.
Who will win: James Cameron, Avatar
Oscar has a track record of giving Best Director and Best Picture to the same movie, but in this case they’re likely to spread the love between the top heavy-hitters in the running. Avatar won’t win best picture because its story isn’t substantial enough for the Academy’s liking, but Cameron will likely be credited for taking on such a mammoth project and using cutting-edge technology to illustrate his fantastical world. Avatar is a beautiful movie that only Cameron could make.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Who should win: Colin Firth, A Single Man
Firth delivers the performance of his career as a closeted gay man in A Single Man and is the only reason to see the movie. Some might say Firth winning would be like Julia Roberts’ win for Erin Brockovich—he’s only playing a more intense version of the character he always plays: the conflicted gentleman. But, so what? He’s really good at the role, capturing wrath, humour and empathy with the utmost subtlety. If Firth continues to take on roles like this, he’s likely to be appreciated for more than his British rom-com work.
Who will win: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Here’s where Oscar karma will take effect. Bridges has been nominated five times but has never won. He took the Golden Globe for this role as an alcoholic, has-been country singer. Bridges is always a pleasure to watch, but he particularly shines in this movie. No one will balk if he wins, for it’s a long time coming and his performance is excellent.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Who should win: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Harrelson proves himself as a multifaceted actor in this movie. He’s played crude and macho in many settings, but here he twists it to show his character’s essential loneliness and fatigue. He has one amazing scene where he breaks down into tears that’s one of the best you’ll ever see. Harrelson’s duality in playing a broken-down career soldier is admirable.
Who will win: Christopher Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Waltz runs with the quintessentially-Tarantino character of a smarmy Nazi officer. He plays like a caricature with his supreme display of daftness and sycophancy. Oscar has never awarded performances like this, but what stands out in this case is Waltz’s ability to act in four different languages: English, French, German and even Italian for a bit. This feat and Waltz’s comedic triumph will bode well for the Academy.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Who should win: Carey Mulligan, An Education
Mulligan’s performance is exquisite and she carries the entire story. The story begins with her as a restless, gifted girl trapped in the confines of a conservative 1950s British school, but she finds adventure and love in an older gentleman. Mulligan is wonderfully charming in this role and carries us through the more serious parts of the film with ease. Her portrayal of her character’s relationship with her domineering father is especially intriguing. Mulligan won’t win, just like Ellen Page didn’t win for Juno, but she delights and amazes in this role.
Who will win: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Bullock won a Golden Globe for this role as a kind-hearted football fanatic who adopts an African-American teenager who aspires for the big leagues of football. This would definitely be an Erin Brockovich-style win. Bullock’s effervescent comedy is on full display here and does a good job with the more serious—albeit somewhat cheesy—parts of the role. Her performance is highly entertaining in her standard Hollywood fashion.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Who should win: Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel
Mo’Nique’s performance as an abusive mother in Precious is heart-wrenching. The movie focuses on her character’s daughter, an obese and illiterate teenager who is repeatedly raped by her father. But Mo’Nique’s character’s jealousy and dysfunction provide the necessary backdrop for the daughter’s struggle. Mo’Nique seems to be deeply familiar with the motivations and emotions of underprivileged African-American women, perhaps from her experience making a documentary called I Coulda Been Your Cellmate, about female prisoners. Mo’Nique is soft-spoken yet volatile, which makes the movie all the more dark.
Who will win: Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire None of the other nominees shine like Mo’Nique. Her role is important and memorable. And since Precious probably won’t snag many of the other awards, this one will be a sure-fire.
Don’t forget to catch the Oscars this Sunday at 8 p.m.
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