Two of the biggest, glitziest awards ceremonies of the Oscar run-up are happening this weekend, the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes. The former is a chance for unwashed critics like myself (though, tragically, I won't be there) to dress up and rub elbows with the people they nominated for awards, while the latter is the boozy, disreputable younger sibling to the Oscars voted on by a bunch of mysterious people and taken seriously by virtually no one. While it's tempting to watch both televised ceremonies and assume they at least vaguely predict what the Oscars will be like, aside from watching a few acceptance speeches-- how exactly will Natalie Portman thank her babydaddy and co-star Benjamin Millipied?--they probably won't tell us much at all.
So if we're trying to predict the Oscars--and that is where this column gets its name, after all-- it's probably best just to focus on the awards season at hand, especially with the nominations announcement coming on January 25, not even two weeks away. I promised last week that I'd dig into some of the acting races this time around, since many of them are far more interesting than the Social Network-dominated Best Picture and Director contest. Yes, three of them seem to have locked-in winners, but the fight to see who will snag the remaining nominations is getting trickier by the day. So let's look at the big four acting contests, the likeliest nominees and see where things stand for all of them. If you've been following the Oscar race closely up to this point none of this will come as a particular surprise, but I think it's interesting to run down where the consensus stands at the moment, both for people new to paying attention to the race and for those of us who have been observing it so long we've kind of lost track of the basics.
The Likely Winner: Colin Firth, The King's Speech. As with so many past winners, it's a combination of things that give him the edge for the win: a long career as a well-liked Hollywood actor, a well-deserved nomination last year that got steamrolled by the Jeff Bridges hype, a role in a movie everyone likes, and a genuinely great performance on top of all of that. Probably the thing that guarantees him the win the most is that everyone seemed to give up on rooting for anyone else months ago; aside from a few pockets of support for James Franco and Jesse Eisenberg (more on them later), the entire Oscar prognosticating community seems content to see Firth walk away with it.
The Locks: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network; James Franco, 127 Hours. Eisenberg's nomination seemed iffy-- the character too closed-off, the performance too low-key until The Social Network became the indisputable champion of the season, so he's in. Franco, almost oppositely, seemed like a real contender against Firth for the win until 127 Hours dropped so far in the conversation. Still he's a media lightning rod, not to mention a co-host of the actual ceremony; it's impossible to avoid him, and voters actually brave enough to watch the film find an excellent performance to appreciate. Even if the movie doesn't make it in for Best Picture-- a real possibility, as I explained last week-- Franco should find room here without much problem.
The Rest of the Field: Robert Duvall, Get Low; Jeff Bridges, True Grit. Think of them as ballast against the youth of the above-mentioned locks, both veterans with years of industry respect, and Bridges a recent winner who hit it out of the park once again. Bridges would be vulnerable if it weren't for True Grit being a huge hit, and Duvall is indeed vulnerable-- there's really only one possible contender beneath him, but it would be easy to see that switch happening given Get Low's low profile and lack of real critical love for anything beyond Duvall.
The Possible Spoilers: Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine; Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter; Javier Bardem, Biutiful. Each of them has things going in their favor, just not enough to get in. Gosling's performance is almost universally praised, but his youth works against him (unlike co-star Michelle Williams, who we'll talk about in a bit). Wahlberg is in a film everyone loves, and his co-stars all seem like locks for nominations if not wins, but his performance is by far the weakest link. And Bardem has a knockout of a performance and lots of high-profile supporters (including Julia Roberts), but in a not-very-good movie that nearly nobody saw. Gosling seems like the likeliest person to knock Duvall or maybe even Bridges out, but I won't drop my coffee come nominations morning if Wahlberg winds up in there after all.
The Likely Winner: Natalie Portman, Black Swan. For a while the contest seemed to be shaking out as a nail-biter between her and Annette Bening (more on her later), but as Black Swan has morphed into a huge hit and Portman continues getting all the press, she's taken a sizable lead. There's still the argument that the Academy skews older and wants to reward Bening, but Portman has all the heat and has been acting nearly as long as her older competition. From this vantage point it seems to be hers to lose.
The Lock Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right. It is a terrific performance, and from an actress robbed twice already of well-deserved wins (both by Hilary Swank, you might remember). Both she and Portman are guaranteed nominations, and there's enough time between now and Oscar night for things to shift just enough in Bening's favor. Don't assume it's over yet.
The Rest of the Field: Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone; Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole; Michelle WIlliams, Blue Valentine. Lawrence is the pretty, buzzy young newcomer bestowed with titles like "Oscar princess" (recent examples of the kind include Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Anne Hathaway). Nicole Kidman is the veteran, and only previous winner truly in the mix this year, who turned in a surprisingly strong performance. And WIlliams is the actress everyone loves turning in a fierce performance in an indie everyone loves even more. Yet each of them seems equally vulnerable-- Lawrence for being part of a small and underseen movie, Kidman being part of a really underseen movie and still suffering some of that inexplicable tabloid hate, and Williams being in a tough-to-watch indie that is still flying a little under the radar. Any of them could feasibly be knocked out by one of the ladies in the next category.
The Possible Spoilers Lesley Manville, Another Year; Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right. Even if the three ladies in the category above seem somewhat vulnerable, it's very hard to image either of these two knocking them out, having received virtually no precursor support and little publicity heat. Still, if there's going to be a surprise on Oscar morning, it will be one of these two knocking out WIlliams, Kidman or Lawrence.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Likely Winner: Christian Bale, The Fighter. He's really got everything-- a bang-up performance in a movie everybody likes, a long career, a comeback story after making a bunch of blockbusters, a famous name thanks to Batman, and no truly strong competition to unseat him. This category looked kind of wild and wooly until Bale showed up and started snapping up every accolade available to him. He's not quite the dominating force Firth is in the lead category, but pretty damn close.
The Lock: Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech. Weirdly he's a lock for a nomination but has virtually no chance of winning. It's a good performance in a well-loved movie by a well-loved actor, but unlikely to excite people when he's inevitably included in the top 5.
The Rest of the Field: Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right; Andrew Garfield, The Social Network; Jeremy Renner, The Town. I've had Ruffalo listed as a Mortal Lock for months now, but he now seems possible as a major oversight in a category that's very volatile. As for the other two, they're almost tabs in the dark-- there are four or five actors who seem capable of filling out these last three slots, and Garfield (based on The Social Network's general success) and Renner (based on The Town's success and that surprise SAG nomination) seem the likeliest only for the moment. They could be easily swapped out with the next few names and it would feel just as right.
The Possible Spoilers: Matt Damon, True Grit; Armie Hammer, The Social Network; John Hawkes, Winter's Bone. Damon is my craziest prediction here, but I really feel that he's great in True Grit-- a hit movie, let's not forget-- and could easily benefit from that movie's rising tide of success (he got a totally unwarranted nomination for Invictus basically just by showing up, let's not forget). Hammer is also a little out there, but he's just as easy a choice for someone to make to reward The Social Network as Garfield; really a more plausible scenario is that they split votes and neither gets in. And Hawkes is the real threat, having snagged a surprise SAG nomination of his own and impressing plenty of people the more they watch their Winter's Bone screeners. With Christian Bale locking down the top of this category so firmly, virtually anything seems possible when it comes to these lower slots.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Likely Winners: Melissa Leo, The Fighter; Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit. Maybe it's a cop-out picking two people for this, but this category has been so loony that I couldn't possibly pick just one (and hey, we're just going for nominations here!) Leo has armloads of critic's awards in her favor, and every other possible nomination you could hope for, but Steinfeld has the power of a growing hit behind her, plus the fact that she's actually the lead of the damn thing. Both seem guaranteed nominations at the least, at which point the race between them could get truly interesting.
The Locks: Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech; Amy Adams, The Fighter. They're both kind of in the same position, really, part of films well-liked in the awards season, playing integral supporting roles but boasting no chance of winning here, partly thanks to being overshadowed by their male co-stars. Still they seem like very strong nominees, especially with no clear contenders underneath to bump them out.
The Rest of the Field: Mila Kunis, Black Swan. There's no consensus here, so I'm picking her based on Black Swan's box office heat and the fact that Mila Kunis is a beautiful young lady, and nobody has a problem voting for that.
The Possible Spoilers: Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom; Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole. Catch me on a different day and I'd tell you Weaver will be the one getting in-- her campaign has not given up even when so many critic's groups have unfairly ignored her, and it's very easy to see her champions slipping her in at the last minute. Wiest is more of a gamble, having gotten virtually no precursor attention and seemingly forgotten about; I maintain hope she could be one of those out-of-the-blue nominees for her understated and searing work in Rabbit Hole.
OK, on to the charts, where I've changed the acting categories to reflect what I said here and haven't changed much otherwise. Next week we'll have final predictions and gauging the fallout, if any, from the Golden Globes. See you then!
Same as last week, still feeling pretty good about where all of this stands, though I'm thinking I maybe shouldn't underestimate 127 Hours after all. We'll see if I change my mind before final predictions next week.
The Director's Guild nominated all of the people I predicted last week, and I see no reason to change that now. As ever, though, keep an eye on the Coens as potential spoilers.