Prepping for the Oscars

It’s early still. Too early. Still. But time with my Academy Acquaintance (AA, for brevity’s sake) is on his terms, not mine, since he’s an Important Person who does Grown Up Things and I am a hobo, or whatever it is he thinks I am that leads to him phoning at massively inconvenient times (read: before noon on a Saturday) in order to trade gossip and movie picks. This last weekend we had our first serious discussion about the Oscar race. Most of it is unprintable at this time as I haven’t seen a fair chunk of the movies he talked about (he attended TIFF and has a jump on the Oscar-watching this year), but as I burn through a slate of hopeful nominees at the Chicago International Film Festival over the next couple of weeks, I’ll start working AA’s thoughts and predictions into my Oscar coverage.

First, let’s talk about Shakespeare. AA caught Anonymous at TIFF (I have to wait for its release on October 28) and his opinion was that it was a wildly inventive, engrossing and flashy piece of entertainment. His thoughts line up with my own instinctive prediction—it will have a shot at all the technical/artistic stuff but it’s best chances at the major categories is limited to Vanessa Redgrave as Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I. Redgrave also appears in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, but early indication is that the movie will not be as widely-seen as Anonymous and Redgrave will back the bigger of the two movies. Anonymous’ star, Rhys Ifans, will likely be at the BAFTAs and Golden Globes but he’s stepped on a few toes this year and will probably be out for the Oscars.

The real surprise coming from the Shakespeare stuff this year, though, is Gerard Butler. Yes. You read that right. Gerard. Butler. AA was thoroughly impressed with him in Coriolanus, and though Butler seems to be trying to get a leading actor nomination for Machine Gun Preacher, AA thinks he’d be better spending his time campaigning for Coriolanus and a supporting nod. Early reviews of both movies are in line with this thinking and can I just—GERARD BUTLER, OSCAR NOMINEE. Oh god, please let this happen. I can trade the inevitable shame for the entertainment value of GERARD BUTLER, OSCAR NOMINEE. Of course, the real lesson here is that Supporting Actor is going to be the “weakest” of the acting categories and thus be open for the most surprises.

Which brings us to Andy Serkis and the fan-driven campaign to get him a Supporting Actor nomination for his mo-cap nightmare chimp in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve asked AA, he’s asked his friends, I’ve run it down with people from studios, agencies and other actors—I don’t feel a lot of traction for this within the filmmaking community. Not because motion-capture performances “don’t count” and not because actors are scared to recognize anything that jeopardizes their jobs (at this point, mo-cap looks more like it’s becoming an animation style, not a full-on “replacement” for making movies with real people), but because no one seems to think Serkis turned in one of the top five supporting performances of the year. Early tips for Supporting Actor are:

Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners—early favorite), John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Tom Hardy (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March), George Clooney (The Ides of March), Paul Giamatti (The Ides of March), Albert Brooks (Drive), Colin Firth (Tinker Tailor Solider Spy), Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life), Gerard freaking Butler (Coriolanus), and Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

Those are just the names I remember. I’m sure War Horse, Margin Call and The Iron Lady will input some new names, not to mention the dozen or so Oscar bait movies we have to yet to see, like Young Adult, J. Edgar and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If Serkis can get traction anywhere, it would be in campaigning for a Special Achievement award, which could then give credence to the argument that there should be some kind of award for non-traditional acting performances (to also include voiceovers). Best Alternative Acting or something like that. Serkis does incredible work in mo-cap and at some point he should be singled out in a meaningful way for contributing to an emerging nightmare form, but it won’t be as a Supporting Actor nominee.

As for the ladies, the Best Actress race is already coming down Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs). AA is a huge fan of Nobbs and Close. Viola Davis (The Help) is also a strong contender, but the movie might be too Blinde-Side-y to secure Davis the win. The obligatory young’un vote will go to either Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) or Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Charlize Theron could score her third nomination for Young Adult. The Academy really, really loves Charlize. Then there’s everybody’s favorite alien, Tilda SWINTON. SWINTON, of course, SHOULD be nominated for We Need to Talk about Kevin but her odds are iffy—she’s not a campaigner and Kevin’s distributor, Oscilloscope, doesn’t have the clout that Michael Clayton’s Warner Brothers does. And of course, here-there-and-everywhere Jessica Chastain will probably land in one of the two actress categories—there are certainly enough performances to choose from in 2011.

The Oscar race is shaping up to be competitive all around this year. So far, there isn’t a knock-out obvious winner (like last year coming down to The King’s Speech and The Social Network), and it doesn’t really look like 2011 will be one of those years that produces a heavyweight. More likely, this will be a dart year—throw a dart, hit a winner—with awards spread over several movies. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could be heavily-nominated, and I expect Alexander Payne’s The Descendants to be named in several categories, too. People have been dogging on 2011 as a bad year for film, but I argue that any year that turns out ten legitimate Oscar contenders, even if none are “masterpieces” (although we did get Tree of Life…), is a good year for film.

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