Judd Apatow is scouring Twitterfor material, Ricky Gervais has self-inflicted early retirement: right now the producers of the Oscar telecast are probably grateful they did not hire comedians to host their show. (They hired wholly untested actors, James Franco and Anne Hathaway.)
Still, Mr. Gervais’s snarky tone as he piloted what he has said will be his last Golden
Globes to sudden cultural relevance on Sunday night led to a slight bump in the ratings.
And Mr. Apatow’s quickly Twittered response — “If anyone has any jokes that they think
are better than Ricky Gervais’s, post here, and I will read the winners and say your name
at P.G.A. awards,” he wrote, referring to his hosting gig at the Producers Guild of
America event on Saturday — has ratcheted up attention on a ceremony so insular and
typically entertainment free that it’s not even televised. (This in a nation that
broadcasts cup stacking, miniature tricycle races and fishing. Did you know a whole movie
has been made about butter carving?)
There is, of course, one group that pays close attention to guild awards: Oscar pundits.
With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ nominations looming very early on
Tuesday morning, prognosticators are compiling their final predictions. Close readers of
the barrage of coverage over the last few weeks probably have an equally good idea of what
to expect. All together now, the 10 nominees for best picture will be: “The Social
Network,” “The King’s Speech,” “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “True
Grit,” “Toy Story 3,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “127 Hours” (probably) and one
other toss-up: “The Town,” Ben Affleck’s Boston crime caper, or “Winter’s Bone,”
Debra Granik’s stark Ozarks drama.
Mr. Affleck’s film has a lauded performance from Jeremy Renner and the muscle of a
studio, Warner Brothers, behind it, while Ms. Granik’s is truly independent, with no
stars and a fraction of the budget and viewership (about $6 million at the box office
compared with $92 million for “The Town”). So the choice will depend on whether the
Academy members want to reward comparative populism or art-house gusto. My guess, based on
the number of people who have gushed to me about “Winter’s Bone,” is that it will make
“127 Hours” is considered a weakling of the bunch. The film, Danny Boyle’s adaptation
of the story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who sawed off his own arm after he was trapped in
a canyon, started the season strong, with good buzz out of festivals thanks to a visceral
filmmaking style and story line. But as the weeks went on, that momentum waned; while a
nomination may be in the cards, ultimate victory is not. No matter: Simon Beaufoy, a
writer of the movie along with Mr. Boyle — they were also behind “Slumdog Millionaire”
— said it’s enough just to be in consideration.
“I think the nomination effect is more important than the winning effect,” he said.
“Just looking at how ‘Slumdog’ was marketed, by the time we got to the nominations we’
d done $40 million” at the box office, “and in the four weeks between nominations and
winning we took in $60 million in North America.” The news of its 10 nominations, he
said, “went on every poster, in Germany, in Spain, and people went in droves.” The film
earned another $40 million after it dominated the awards, winning eight Oscars. “127
Hours,” which has made just over $11 million so far, is due to open wide on Jan. 28 and
internationally in February, allowing it to ride any Oscar attention. Even if it doesn’t
get a best picture nod, Mr. Franco, who as Mr. Ralston is almost the only thing on screen
aside from his pet rock — “If you don’t like James Franco, leave now,” Mr. Boyle said
before the premiere in New York — is a lock for a best actor nomination.
That category appears to be Colin Firth’s to lose. (Sorry, Mr. Franco.) As the stuttering
monarch in “The King’s Speech,” Mr. Firth has earned nearly all the major kudos from
critics and guilds thus far. But there is some drama, or at least some wiggle room, in the
rest of the actor spots, as well as in the best actress race.
The male hopefuls include Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), Robert Duvall (“Get
Low”), Jeff Bridges (“True Grit”) and Ryan Gosling (“Blue Valentine”). Among
actresses Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) and Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”)
are the front-runners, and other likely contenders include Nicole Kidman, for the indie
drama “Rabbit Hole,” and Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter’s Bone.” For the fifth spot?
Ms. Bening’s co-star Julianne Moore? Michelle Williams for “Blue Valentine”? Lesley
Manville for Mike Leigh’s “Another Year”? Fourteen-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, a long
shot for “True Grit”? If you have to wager on a lady, now would be the time to do it.
The best director group will probably hew closely to the filmmakers chosen by the
Directors Guild of America: David Fincher (“The Social Network”), David O. Russell
(“The Fighter”), Darren Aronofsky(“Black Swan”),
Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) and Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), with the Coen
brothers (“True Grit”) posing an outside threat. Most of those films can expect a
screenplay nod as well.
There are more categories to parse; the best picture winner has had a corresponding best
editing nomination for decades, for example. But as the Golden Globes are the latest to
demonstrate, people don’t watch awards shows only to reward artistry. The appeal is equal
parts cynicism — the schadenfreude shots of the losers, the badly dressed, the (please,
someone) slightly tipsy — and surprise.
At the risk of spoilers, I can already say with near certainty what one of the best
moments of the Oscars will be: the appearance of 65 10- and 11-year-olds from Public
School 22 on Staten Island. P.S. 22, the largest public elementary school in the borough,
boasts a fifth-grade chorus that is, thanks to YouTube, already famous for its renditions
of Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Phoenix.
Led by Gregg Breinberg, a ponytailed music director and master of enthusiasm, the kids
have been feted by Beyoncé and Oprah, performed at the White House and a few weeks ago
received an invitation to sing at the Academy Awards, to which they responded with
Bieberesque screams. They will take part in nominations day, and if your Oscar pool has
room for pure, unadulterated joy, you can double down on them.
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