Throughout the 1950s, the Academy Awards ceremonies were held at the gorgeous Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, about a mile or so east of the show’s current home, the Kodak. It is a stunning theatre—Leah and I were there just a few days ago sitting in the first row for a performance of a revival of “Hair.” We loved it. At the end of the show, the audience was invited to come up on the stage and dance with the cast to “Let the Sun Shine In.” As I gyrated on that hallowed stage while various cast members rubbed my bald head, I could only think of the endless list of stars who accepted their Oscars from that very spot—Judy Holliday, Gary Cooper, Vivien Leigh, William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Alec Guinness, Ingrid Bergman, and so many others.
The Oscar nominations were announced yesterday and once again it’s time for my annual predictions. I don’t think I’ll ever come close to my 2009 Personal Best (every single one of my predictions was on target, even my long shots!). The truth is, my movie attendance has plummeted since that year but what the hell—I’ll still give it a go even though I haven’t seen several of the nominated films. No use letting knowledge or facts get in the way of my opinions—God knows the Academy members don’t!
Best Supporting Actor: Haven’t seen “Winter’s Bone” (and I feel like I should) so I can’t comment on John Hawkes. Nor have I seen “The Town” (and for some reason I have no desire to) so ditto on Jeremy Renner. But those guys don't have a chance anyway. Neither does Mark Ruffalo even though I thought he was very good as the sperm donor in “The Kids Are All Right” (I don’t think he’s shown very much range in his film roles, but of all his similar parts, I liked this one the best!). The contest here is clearly between Geoffrey Rush for his superb portrayal of George VI’s bizarre speech therapist in “The King’s Speech” and Christian Bale for his bravura hollow-cheeked performance as a once famous boxer turned heroin addict in “The Fighter.” This is a very hard call and makes me realize why I hate all awards shows with their apples-and-oranges competitions. Both are deserving and if it were just up to me, I’d probably give it to Rush (who frankly should have been nominated for Best Actor) but I’m going to predict that Christian Bale is going to win it by an emaciated nose. Apart from giving a truly excellent performance, the Academy loves it when actors alter their physical appearance for a role.
Best Supporting Actress: I not only haven’t seen Jackie Weaver in “Animal Kingdom,” I’ve never heard a single word about her or the film. How did I miss that one? Oh well, it’s on my list and if I see any of these performances before the Oscars, I’ll update my predictions. I also haven’t seen “True Grit” although I love Hailee Steinfeld just from the trailers. I am a huge Helena Bonham Carter fan and thought she got the Queen Mother down perfectly in “The King’s Speech.” I loved every second of her performance (including her mastery of that bizarre way the British Royals talk as if their mouths were stuffed with Henry Higgins’ marbles). Still, I don’t think the Academy will consider it flashy enough to be Oscar-worthy. The race here is between the two dames from “The Fighter”—Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. I was delighted to see Adams’ tough girl performance in this film, especially after her boring, wan turn in last year’s “Julie and Julia” and if she won I would cheer for her. But my guess is that Melissa Leo will take home the prize and that’s just fine by me. I’ve been a huge Leo fan ever since her days eons ago as Cliff Warner’s troubled sister on “All My Children.” I remember thinking even then that it was odd having her on that soap—she was so far above the acting ability of anyone else on the show she stood out too much. Since then, every performance she's given has been gritty and real and exquisitely portrayed. I would go so far as to say she's one of the best American actresses we have right now—definitely in Meryl Streep’s category. Go, Melissa!
Best Actor: Okay, I haven’t seen “Biutiful” but have always liked Javier Bardem (who became a papa this week thanks to Oscar winner Penelope Cruz). I’m sure Jeff Bridges is great in “True Grit” but he ain’t gonna get it again so soon (and many of the Academy voters may resent him taking over the part from John Wayne). I have to admit that while I enjoyed “The Social Network,” I am nowhere near as gaga for it as so many people are. And while I think Jesse Eisenberg was well cast as Mark Zuckerberg, I just wouldn’t give him an Oscar for that performance. Sorry, Jesse. I was scared when I went to see “127 Hours” because I thought it would be gruesome to watch and I also wondered how a movie about a guy stuck in a hole for most of the film could be all that engaging. Well, I loved it, I thought the filmmakers and actor James Franco achieved the impossible and if it were up to me, I’d give Franco (who is the co-host of this year's telecast) the award, I think he was that good. But my feeling is that the voters are far more likely to give the Oscar to Colin Firth for his excellent portrayal of the Man Who Didn’t Want to Be King in “The King’s Speech.” I hear there are increasing criticisms of the film’s accuracy but I guess it’s time for the always talented Firth to get his due. I wonder if Queen Elizabeth has seen the film. I thought the young actress playing her was great, by the way, you could really see how she’d grow up to be Liz. Why isn't Mark Wahlberg on this list? He gets no respect.
Best Actress: Sorry Jennifer Lawrence, I’ll get back to you after I’ve seen “Winter’s Bone.” Ditto Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine.” If she won, her daughter by Heath Ledger would inherit an Oscar from both her parents. How many married acting couples in the history of the awards have both won the top prize (I realize Heath's posthumous award was for Supporting Actor)? Off the top of my head I can only think of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh along with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. (And if you allow Best Supporting Oscars, you can add Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.) I want to see Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole” but given the traumatic subject matter, I need to gear up for it. I did see “Black Swan” and it had almost the opposite effect that “The Social Network” had on me. I found it very flawed at first but the more time passes, the more I appreciate the film and especially Natalie Portman’s desperate performance. I’m surprised her co-stars Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey didn’t pick up nominations as well. I think the Academy has always loved Portman (and deservedly so, even though she’s made some major stinkers, including the three “Star Wars” prequels) but I think that the time has finally come to honor Annette Bening for her fun and very authentic performance in “The Kids Are All Right.” (And if she wins, chalk up another married couple with dueling Oscars, even though Warren Beatty’s wasn't for acting). I think it’s unfair that co-star Julianne Moore was overlooked by the Academy even though Moore recently yelled at me in a strange encounter in L.A. (but I deserved it). Bening is pure class and I loved her in this role. She’ll make a killer speech.
By the way, did you notice that apart from Spanish Javier Bardem, this is the whitest group of nominees in decades? Just sayin.
Best Picture: Can I reiterate how much I loathe the new policy of ten nominated films instead of five? Ridiculous. I’m surprised that of the ten I’ve seen all but “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone.” I liked “Inception” very much and was glad to see it here but it doesn’t stand a chance. Neither does “Toy Story 3,” “127 Hours,” or “Black Swan.” I guess it’s remotely possible that “The Kids Are All Right” could pull off a major upset but my feeling is that the race is between “The Fighter” (long shot), “The King’s Speech,” and “The Social Network.” All the Academy buzz points to “The Social Network” but I just do NOT want that film to win so I’m going to take a chance and say that the members’ obsession with historical English lessons will win the day and that the top prize will go to “The King’s Speech.” It could happen. I’m repulsed to hear that the Weinsteins are already preparing an edited version of that film for a post-Oscar release without all of the profanity (that is so completely harmless) to get more kids to the film. Leave it alone, Harvey!
That’s it for now, folks. I’ll be back with predictions for the writing and directing awards along with a few of the other categories. Let the voting begin!