On Tuesday morning, the 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced. We can parse the snubs, dissect the choices and generally act shocked and scandalized that one person or film was included over another, clearly superior person or film, because that’s what we do.
But not today! Today, we try to predict something that really defies proper predicting. I mean, anybody who has paid even a little attention to the Oscar race could predict 80 percent of the nominees. There are a few curveballs — the surprise nods, the fact that nobody knows how many nominees will land in the biggest category (for the the biggest awards show of the year, people) — but the majority of it is settled. The long, slow slog of the Oscar season gives shape to the race.
Whatever, this is all a long way of saying let’s discuss what we think we know and what we think we think we might think going into next week’s announcement of the nominations:
So I guess let’s begin with Best Picture, which is technically the hardest category to predict because we don’t know how many nominees we will see. Let me repeat this: Nobody knows for sure. We know there will be between five and 10 nominees, because leaving it up to fate is a normal thing to do for a major awards ceremony. Maybe there will be eight. Or maybe there will be seven, predicts the same guy, only two months earlier. Or maybe they will just find a way to nominate every single eligible movie, and it will be like college football where everyone gets to go to a bowl, and the category with “The Artist” will be the real one but movies like “Abduction” and “Beastly” can contend in the Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl category. (If you want to know how the nominees will actually be selected, this primer by Kyle Buchanan explains it well.)
Some of the nominees are locks: “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Midnight in Paris” and “Bridesmaids” are definitely in. “Moneyball” and “The Help” are a shade below the top four, but they’re in. There will probably wind up being eight nominees, in which case “The Tree of Life” (which was loved by some and hated by others, which is better than being instantly forgotten, i.e. “J. Edgar”) and “Hugo” probably make it. I think the final slot comes down to “War Horse,” “Hugo” and the surprisingly resilient “The Ides of March.” I’ve gone back and forth on this — I feel like “War Horse” has the Spielberg-y prestige to drag it onto the final ballot — but ultimately, I figured that since Scorsese is guaranteed a nod for “Hugo,” there is enough interest in that movie to win out over Spielberg’s forgettable story about how horses are more important than people.
I WISH: Man, I would love it if “Drive” snuck in there. I would be fine if they nominated “The Blind Side” every year from here until the end of time if it meant they nominated “Drive” this year. (I might be exaggerating, but it would still be pretty great.)
Now let’s turn our attention to Best Actor, shall we, a category that is basically done and locked and so obviously I’m going to get all five of these wrong. But there are already three locks: Jean Dujardin for “The Artist,” Clooney for “The Descendants” and Pitt for “Moneyball.” Those three are the frontrunners. The other lock, Michael Fassbender for “Shame,” is going to be nominated, but he seems unlikely to win unless the top three wind up splitting votes. The final nominee is almost definitely Leonardo DiCaprio for Playing A Famous Dead Person in “J. Edgar,” despite that movie’s immediate descent from other Oscar consideration. The only hitch is that everyone has already forgotten “J. Edgar” existed, so DiCpario’s “I’m playing a famous dead person” shtick might actually fail to make the cut.
I doubt it, but if — if! — DiCaprio’s half-remembered ethereal shadow of a movie winds up dragging down his chances, who could slide in? The top choice is Gary Oldman, who has never been an Oscar nominee and let me say that again Gary Oldman has never been an Oscar nominee, for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” That movie’s quiet reception could keep him from his first (!) Oscar nomination, but he has been around for long enough and worked with enough people that he could sneak in. Or it could be Michael Shannon or Woody Harrelson. The final dark horse is Ryan Gosling for “Drive,” though they would probably give it to him for “Ides of March” if they opted to reward him for such a big year.
The Best Actress category also has several locks, and it has one Meryl Streep-shaped frontrunner. Meryl Streep’s “The Iron Lady” was received, ahem, tepidly by critics, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher. Viola Davis (“The Help”) and Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”) are her strongest competitors, and it is here that I must remind you that Streep has been nominated for 12 Oscars since 1983 and she lost every time. Streep’s two Oscar wins (one leading, one supporting) came in 1980 and 1983, and around this time she took on the mantle of Greatest Living Actress. The curse of this renown meant that she already had two Oscars and was widely recognized for her talent, so she kept losing the damn things to other people so voters could feel like they were recognizing someone who really deserved it, a list that includes Cher, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sandra Bullock.
It’s the inverse of the “It’s His/Her Time” Oscar — the mindset that has gifted Denzel Washington, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese and others trophies that they actually earned for earlier films but won for lesser works. Since Streep has her Oscars and since everyone knows how great she is, why not vote for Sandy, since everyone loves her and saw “The Blind Side” and everything?
So if Streep loses to Williams (who just turned 31 but already has two Oscar nominations before this inevitable one), it will make sense because they’re rewarding a talented ingenue who overcame humble beginnings (“Dawson’s Creek”) — and because she played a Famous Dead Person, particularly a Famous Dead Hollywood Actress, and the Oscar voters are only human and only able to resist a fix for so long. Davis is also a prior nominee (for 2009′s “Doubt”) as well as a two-time Tony Award winner, and she (unlike Williams) will be nominated for a big, crowd-pleasing hit in “The Help.” Having your performance seen by many more people helps.
And the final two nominees will probably be Tilda Swinton for “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and Glenn Close for “Albert Nobbs,” even though both of those movies have reportedly come screened and been seen by people and have you heard anyone, anywhere, discuss either film? That means a surprise like Rooney Mara (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) could swoop in, and even someone like the very, very unlikely Charlize Theron (for being very good in the very bad “Young Adult”).
Best Director is also largely set. Martin Scorsese, Michel Hanazavicius and Alexander Payne can all expect nominations. Woody Allen is right on the bubble; there is a chance Allen gets overlooked here, because his film will be up for Picture and Screenplay, and it’s not like it was a directorial triumph. That leaves at least one open slot, maybe two. Terrence Malick absolutely deserves a nod for “The Tree of Life,” and it seems likely for him to wind up here if his film makes it to the Best Picture category. That leaves David Fincher and Steven Spielberg, both for making expertly-crafted, technically precise adaptations nobody particularly adored. The Academy has a Spielberg fetish, but Fincher was unjustly robbed for “The Social Network” last year, and since this is an organization that loves trying to make amends, I think he gets the nod.
The Supporting Actor category is also almost entirely locked: Christopher Plummer will finally win, besting Albert Brooks, Jonah Hill, Kenneth Branagh and…Nick Nolte? Andy Serkis (nah, not gonna happen)? I feel like the Academy will go with Nolte here, but this final spot is the one I am least confident about on the entire ballot.
And in Supporting Actress, Octavia Spencer is unquestionably going to win this. She’ll be up against dark horse nominee Melissa McCarthy, Berenice Bejo (unless she winds up in the Best Actress category, where quite frankly she belongs, but that’s not how these things work, so supporting it is), Shaileen Woodley and…once again, the fifth spot is the hardest to predict. Jessica Chastain was in everything this year, as the expression goes, so she could reap some of “The Help’s” largesse. If Glenn Close is nominated, maybe Janet McTeer is up for the same film. Carey Mulligan was in two Oscar contenders (“Drive” and “Shame”), but didn’t really make enough of an impression in either one. I think it winds up going to Chastain.