Oscar day (and night, and early morning) is upon us. The guessing games give way to actual results — and opinions about those results.
Will it be, as many predict, a big night for The Artist, the consensus favorite for best picture? Will Billy Crystal still be funny as Oscar host — even if he has not done it since 2004?
(By the way, Cleveland’s own Bob Hope still holds the record for most times hosting, 19, between 1940 and 1978. Crystal places second with nine turns dating back to 1992.)
Will there be any love for local lights like College of Wooster alum J.C. Chandor, a first-time nominee for his original script for Margin Call, or the set-in-Ohio (and partly shot here) The Ides of March, nominated for adapted screenplay?
Who will have the worst gown, the most awful joke, the most moving moment, the greatest acceptance speech? Will anyone drop an F-bomb, get cut off by a commercial, or complain about someone else’s remarks?
Most important, will you be happy about the winners?
Odds are that some will disappoint you. There’s still a regular disconnect between what the movie academy thinks is good and what the public does. Of the nine nominees for best picture, The Help was by far the most successful at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo. But, as well as it did, it still ranked 13th among all movies in 2011, well behind top-ranked Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows — Part 2. Granted Potter has three nominations, they are all in minor categories (art direction, makeup and visual effects).
And I don’t expect to be pleased with everything announced tonight. That’s an enduring Oscar tradition. Last year, as The King’s Speech was grabbing best picture, I was still thinking The Social Network was a better choice. In fact, I thought The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone were better than The King’s Speech.
But I have to let this go. By tomorrow I will have a whole new set of grievances. My preferences may explain why. Let’s go to the list.
• Best Picture
While, as I said, The Artist is the favorite here, my choice is The Descendants. It’s not that I disliked The Artist; it’s a clever re-creation of silent, black-and-white filmmaking with an endearing lead performance by Jean Dujardin. But to me the best combination of style and substance remains the George Clooney film, which has a strong understanding of the messiness of life and the complications of grief and loss. I have seen it twice so far, and expect to watch it again.
Other nominees are Moneyball, which would be my second choice for best picture; The Help; The Tree of Life; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; and War Horse.
• Best Director
Logic would dictate that the best picture had the best director, but the movie academy has complicated that formula by allowing more best picture nominees (nine this year) than best directors (a fixed five). But Alexander Payne, who directed The Descendants, is nominated and so is my choice. He’s a long shot considering the impressive technical achievements by Martin Scorsese (embracing 3-D in Hugo) and The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius. But I’m cheering not for who I think will win but who I think should.
Other nominees are Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris and Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life.
• Lead Actor
You will detect a pattern here. I want George Clooney to win for The Descendants. His performance may look simple on the surface, but look at what he does with his face, and especially his eyes, and his willingness to present all the confusion in his character’s life and emotions. Other nominees are Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Demian Bichir (A Better Life) and Dujardin; all are good, and I wouldn’t complain if Pitt won, but Clooney is the best of the lot.
• Lead Actress
I understand the issues that have surrounded The Help. But I still found the movie admirable (and an improvement on the book), especially when Viola Davis was at work. She is an actress of singular force and dignity who, as she has said, has had a career consisting in large part of small roles in movies and guest shots on TV. She and Octavia Spencer were essential to the quality of the movie, and Davis thoroughly earned a best actress Oscar.
Other nominees are Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (my second choice), Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn and Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs.
• Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer has been nominated twice for an Oscar, both times in the supporting category — for Beginners this year and previously for The Last Station. When you consider the range of his performances in a long career — he’s 82 — that’s astonishing. And it will be a huge disappointment if he does not win this year for his joyous, marvelous work as a gay man who has come out late in life.
My runner-up: Nick Nolte for Warrior, an overlooked movie worth your attention. Other nominees are Jonah Hill (actually underplaying in Moneyball), Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn) and Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close).
• Supporting Actress
If Octavia Spencer wins for The Help, I will be happy. But I won’t object if the prize goes to Melissa McCarthy, who gave by far the most memorable and funniest performance in Bridesmaids. Other nominees include The Artist’s Berenice Bejo (who I thought was a weak spot in the movie), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) and Jessica Chastain for The Help.
Chastain was actually much better in The Tree of Life, and she had still more Oscar-eligible movies on her resume this year. But the Oscars don’t honor an actor’s cumulative work in a season; otherwise, we might be talking much more about Chastain, or the unnominated Ryan Gosling (Drive, The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love), or considering Clooney’s work in The Ides of March in tandem with The Descendants.
But that’s a different Oscars rant. Let’s see how tonight goes, and who will be ranting about what tomorrow.
The Oscar telecast begins at 8:30 tonight on ABC.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and in the HeldenFiles Online blog at http://heldenfels.ohio.com. Follow his live Oscar commentary on Twitter: @rheldenfels. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.