For the shortest month in the calendar, we ask a lot of February. It’s devoted to love, and to commemorating our great presidents, and once every few years we ask it to hang around an extra day to keep our calendar stable.
It’s when the groundhog tells us how soon spring will get here. And over the last decade, we’ve piled even more on its plate: The Super Bowl and the Oscars.
The Academy Awards show is now the Super Bowl of a long awards season that can leave even the most enthusiastic movie buff, showbiz geek or fashionista exhausted. The nominees show no sign that they get tired of it, but the producers of the show clearly fear that viewers might, especially the lusted-after younger viewers.
This year, instead of an old-school pro like Billy Crystal or an iconic veteran like Steve Martin or David Letterman or even Chris Rock, they’ve chosen untested but attractive Anne Hathaway and James Franco for the hosting duties.
It’s a risky but fascinating choice to see actors rather than comedians in this role.
As for this year’s crop of nominees, they include some really first-rate films and performances, both in front of the camera and behind it. As usual, who wins will often have less to do with relative merit than with unquantifiable factors like who is better liked or who is seen as being overdue for the honor. Earlier in the season The Social Network, David Fincher’s absorbing chronicle of the birth of Facebook and its postnatal complications, was regarded as the front-runner.
It may well win Best Picture, and will almost certainly win Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin.
But if I were placing a wager on Best Picture in Vegas, I would bet on The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper’s stately yet warmhearted account of King George VI’s struggle with his stammer.
It’s the sort of thing that Oscar has never been able to resist (although this may be changing): a grand (and British) historical spectacle, not to mention the story of a person overcoming a handicap. Plus, it’s really enjoyable, and it contains a virtuoso performance by Colin Firth, who didn’t win last year for his sensational work in A Single Man. Firth, at least, has a near-lock on Best Actor.
Natalie Portman will probably win Best Actress for the stylish and entertaining if slightly overhyped Black Swan, though I would give the nod to Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right, as the choices stand. Melissa Leo is almost sure to win Best Supporting Actress for her vivid work in The Fighter, and she would be my choice, too.
The Fighter’s David O. Russell would also get my vote for Best Director.
As is often the case, Best Supporting Actor is a murderously tough category. Geoffrey Rush will probably win for his splendid work in The King’s Speech, but Christian Bale, Mark Ruffalo and John Hawkes would all be worthy winners as well.
I was especially pleased by the excellent Jeremy Renner’s nomination in this category, especially because Ben Affleck’s potent crime film The Town was otherwise unjustly shut out.
The superb Barney’s Version, now playing at Harkins Camelview, also didn’t get anything like the Oscar recognition it deserved, but the one nomination it did receive pleased me: Best Makeup—who would have imagined this movie would share a category with The Wolfman?
Adrien Morot’s age makeup on Giamatti and the other actors is so convincing and so subtle that it unobtrusively adds to the sense that we’re seeing decades of these peoples’ lives. It’s understandable that fantastic, otherwordly makeup effects would dominate that category, but I’m always delighted by the acknowledgement of technique that hasn’t called attention to itself.
And since the Academy Awards are all about thanking people, special thanks to my wife, my steadfast collaborator on all things Oscar. When it’s time to open the envelope, she’s the one in our family who’s holding her breath.