For years now, people wonder why the Oscar ceremony has been struggling with declining ratings. A glance at this year’s nominees should clear that up for all but the densest person (which leaves it a mystery to a lot of Hollywood types and entertainment writers, I know): little is nominated that large audiences want to see.
Out of nine Best Picture nominees, only one (“The Help”) was a genuine hit, with the rest ranging from moderate successes (“The Descendants,” “Moneyball”) to little-seen prestige pics (“The Artist,” “The Tree of Life”) with a disastrous failure (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”) thrown in for good measure. It’s virtually impossible to even discuss the nominations outside of the Internet, because how many people know even one person who has seen half of the nominees, much less the majority?
Nonetheless, the Oscars can still be great fun for cinephiles as everyone tries to pick the winners. Here’s my attempt at Oscar prescience.
Even with nine nominees, this is an easy call. “The Artist” has the exact sort of buzz that Best Picture winners desire, near-universal praise mixed with an absence of controversy and a style that’s safe yet not often seen. The fact that I thought it was a shallow bore likely won’t influence many voters, unfortunately! Its only serious rival, “The Descendants,” has lost a great deal of its luster since the Golden Globes, combined with the fact that it’s difficult finding anyone who actually loves it. “Hugo” has the most nominations, but it’s a quasi-children’s movie with no acting nods, which are indicative of an ultimate winner.
Prediction: “The Artist”
One can usually expect the winner of Best Picture to also see its director awarded with a statue, and this year is no different. The Academy only seems to break this rule for revered auteurs, though this year four of the five positions are given to such filmmakers, which I expect will split up the non-Michel Hazanavicius vote.
Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius
This is a two-man contest between George Clooney and Jean Dujardin. It’s close, but I’m predicting Dujardin’s turn as a fading silent film star for the win. This has as much to do with Clooney as it does Dujardin; despite a good effort in “The Descendants,” he’s plainly miscast as the nebbish soon-to-be widow, his nomination being the result of the lobbying that got the film so many nominations in the first place. The remaining actors put in fine, nuanced performances that aren’t going to steal many votes from the favorite.
Prediction: Jean Dujardin
Another two-way race. On one hand we have Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady,” a dazzling example of mimicry that single-handedly carries what could have been a biopic otherwise forgettable if not for its sympathetic treatment of a right-wing figure. Then there’s Viola Davis, who imbued complexity to what could have been a mundane character with her long-suffering maid in “The Help.” I’d just as soon see the prize go to Rooney Mara for her electric, mercurial turn as the title character in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but she lacks Streep’s cachet and the support of the kind of affection “The Help” received. I’m calling this for Davis, primarily because it will be the Academy’s prize to “The Help,” but also because Streep’s frequency of nomination likely shaves off votes every time.
Prediction: Viola Davis
Best Supporting Actor:
Though none of these performances contained half the exhilarating kick of Albert Brooks’ turn as a murderous gangster in “Drive,” everyone here did good work with what they had. The obvious choice here is Christopher Plummer for his turn as dying, recently out of the closet gay man in “Beginners.” Some are predicting Max von Sydow, with his wordless performance in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” might swoop in for an upset, but I doubt it, as the film itself was just terrible, whereas “Beginners” was charming despite overdoing the cutesiness at times.
Prediction: Christopher Plummer
Best Supporting Actress:
This category’s dearth of star power and worthwhile films makes it by far the least interesting of the acting awards. Many are predicting Octavia Spencer’s fiery turn in “The Help” has secured her award, though I beg to differ, as Jessica Chastain’s performance in the same film, despite being wholly different, could siphon off just enough votes to give the prize to Bérénice Bejo, ensuring quite the night for “The Artist.”
Prediction: Bérénice Bejo