As far as Best Picture goes, there are some sure-things and some long shots. Sure things include The Social Network, The King's Speech, Toy Story 3, Inception, and buzz-crazy Black Swan. With 10 nominees instead of the typical 5, there is room for underdogs and different 'types' of Oscar contenders (note: Toy Story). Below, you will find what I think should be this year's nominees, though I think True Grit could knock out a number of contenders. Something like Rabbit Hole or Another Year could pull off a surprise and surely movies like Love & Other Drugs, For Colored Girls, Secretariat, or even Burlesque could have been contenders had they gotten better reviews. I would list this summer's Mother and Child among the nominees if anyone (save New York magazine were still talking about it). As for a winner, I think The Social Network will pull through based on the Golden Globes, its box office, and its general buzz worthiness (Mark Zuckerberg was Time's person of the year). Inception could post a threat, but will likely gather no acting nominations (a la Avatar), giving Social Network the win. The King's Speech also garners competition, especially since it could possibly take Best Actor (definitely), Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, but I think the Academy will once again choose an American story (No Country for Old Men, The Departed) over Anglo-phile fare. The Town may very likely have to give way for True Grit or a number of other movies, but I simply loved this bank-heist blockbuster and think it deserves a nod.
For Best Actor it seems Colin Firth has locked in the win. Though I think he will definitely receive competition from James Franco, Ryan Gosling, and Jesse Eisenberg (the first two appearing on seemingly every magazine cover available this year), he seems prime to knock out his younger rivals. Albeit some my question Gosling's inclusion, with his solid performances in both Valentine and All Good Things combined with he and Valentine's general buzz, he is a sure thing for my money. The fifth spot is a toss-up between Jeff Bridges, Mark Wahlberg, Robert DuVall, and Jim Carrey (ok, I may be the only one championing Mr. Carrey, but here goes). Bridges does a wonderful character act in True Grit, and while a win is unlikely, the Academy may bring last year's winner back for a nomination. While The Fighter has received general praise, the acting accolades have mostly been for Wahlberg's costars Bale, Leo, and even Amy Adams. In truth, he may be the film's central character, but it is the other players who provide the real drama. However, the Academy picked him over Jack Nicholson or Matt Damon for The Departed and may pick him again. Outside bets include recent octo-genarian Robert Duvall, Javier Bardem, and Jim Carrey for his humorous and human performance in I Love You, Philip Morris. The Academy does love surprises, and if I am betting on one, it's Jim Carrey in Best Actor.
Ahhh, my favorite category. For me, every awards season starts with, who will be Best Actress? This year's field is particularly interesting because we are without Ms. Meryl and her record-breaking nomination count (not to mention Academy darlings Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchet, Renee Zelleweger, Judi Dench, or Helen Mirren - though if Hell hath no furry it may hand her a nomination for The Tempest based on credentials alone). Besides Best Picture, this seems to be this year's most fascinating category, with Annette Benning and Natalie Portman looking to gun each other down for a golden man. While I truly did love Benning in The Kids Are Alright, I think Natalie Portman in her dance-thriller Black Swan will triumph. The Academy does love women in transformational roles, does it not (See: The Hours, Monster, The Reader, Boys Don't Cry,etc)? Certainly Natalie Portman had to work a little harder to become a grand ballerina than Benning into a wino lesbian mommy. However, it is interesting to note that Benning's other release this year Mother and Child received much better notices than Portman's recent No Strings Attached. For the other three nominations, I think Jennifer Lawrence is a definite for indie-darling Winter's Bone, and if anything deserved to be nominated from Blue Valentine, it is Michelle Williams. The last spot will probably go to Nicole Kidman for the first good movie she has made in a long while. However, former Academy favorites Halle Berry, Diana Lane, Hilary Swank, or even Anne Hathaway could swoop off with a nomination (somewhere in the distance, past winner Julia Roberts is sobbing into her millions that Eat Pray Love was not the revelation it was meant to be). Also of note, I am predicting Julianne Moore and Hailee Steinfield will go Best Supporting Actress, but both could believably pull a Reader and go Best Actress and leave Williams, Kidman, or Lawrence out in the cold.
Best Supporting Actor seems poised to go to the ludicrous Christian Bale, though Geoffrey Rush seemed set to pick up the award at the start of awards season. While this appears a two man race, there are still three nominations to be snapped up. My guess is that someone from The Social Network will nab a nomination, and it will probably be Andrew Garfield. True Grit could present a nominee, Mr. Bridges included, or perhaps a veteran actor from Get Low, The Company Men, Conviction, or Secretariat. Had Philip Morris received better reviews, Ewan McGregor may received praise for the title character, though I think Jeremy Renner is more likely to receive recognition for the popcorn muncher The Town, in part riding the coattails of last year's Best Picture The Hurt Locker. And if the Academy smiles on The Winter's Bone, relatively unknown John Hawkes could grab a nomination. Many have looked at The Kids Mark Ruffalo for a possible nom, but he should only be considered for his hot daddy sex scenes with Julianne Moore.
In another seemingly open race, The Fighter's Melissa Leo has proved the favorite, though Helena Bonham Carter could give her a run for her money for The King's Speech. Leo will probably win, given her excellent work in the previously nominated Frozen River as well as this year's nearly-acclaimed Welcome to the Rileys and Conviction. If Moore and Steinfeld go Best Supporting, they are sure things in this category, but that is a big If (if there's one prediction I have for this year, it will be a total, unfortunate shutout for Julianne Moore). While one of the Black Swan girls, Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey, could secure a nomination, my bet is on Rabbit Hole's Dianne Wiest, a former winner in this category (not to mention the mirroring of Tony nominations for Cynthia Nixon and Tyne Daly in 2006). True, a relative unknown for Animal Kingdom, Made in Dagenham, or Another Year could sneak in, and had Burlesque been a good movie, former winner Cher could even be included. Also of note, the many wonderful actresses in For Colored Girls, who will be sadly passed over because of the film's poor box office and scathing reviews. Thandie Newton and Loretta Devine could both have looked forward to this category, but will instead have to look for another director besides the ill-talented Mr. Perry. If Steinfeld goes Best Actress or Moore is forgotten, look for Ms. Kunis (I saw her eat a muffin on the set of Friends with Benefits) to swoop in and grab a nomination.
The Best Director nominees will most likely follow the Best Picture front runners, though Mr. Hooper could battle his way onto my list, or even the Coen brothers or Mike Nichols for Another Year. With both The Kids Are Alright and Winter's Bone both in contention, we will most likely see at least one woman in this very male-dominated category.
Finally, here are my Oscar predictions. Please note, these are both the movies and I think should be nominated as well as those I think will be nominated.
*The Social Network
Toy Story 3
The King's Speech
The Kids Are Alright
(Although it was very hard to ignore True Grit, the Coen brothers have received a lot of love from the Academy before - and surely will again. Still, their box-office boom may knock out a smaller movie like Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, or The Kids Are Alright. In the distance, indie fave Blue Valentine could come through.)
*Colin Firth - The King's Speech
James Franco - 127 Hours
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine
Jim Carrey - I Love You, Philip Morris
Annette Benning - The Kids Are Alright
*Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine
Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Best Actor in a Supporting Role:
*Christian Bale - The Fighter
Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech
Andrew Garfield - The Social Network
Matt Damon - True Grit
Jeremy Renner - The Town
Best Actress in a Supporting Role:
Melissa Leo - The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Dianne Wiest - Rabbit Hole
Julianne Moore - The Kids Are Alright
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
Christopher Nolan - Inception
Danny Boyle - 127 Hours
David Fincher - The Social Network
Debra Granik - Winter's Bone
What I'm Watching: Shortbus, The Princess and the Frog, GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, For Your Consideration, I Love You, Philip Morris, Arrested Development
What I'm Reading: The Devil Wears Prada