So far this year, the Oscar Power Rankings have been an objective exercise, a frequent update of the Oscar race with un-biased analysis of which actors an films have the best shot at winning. Well, it’s time for all that to end.
On the eve of my surefire, can’t miss Oscar winner predictions, I bring you my opinion on the matter. Just because somebody is favored to win, doesn’t mean that should be the case. Every year, the Oscars get it wrong, but if they listened to me, they never would.
Here are Oscar Power Rankings of who should win…
For the second consecutive year, this category is extremely weak. Seriously, am I going to have to start railing that there aren’t enough good roles for men? Firth comes out the best of the weak bunch – and it has nothing to do with his stammer. There’s not much sillier than how gaga critics go over technical aspects of a performance. Wow, he really sounded like he had a stammer! Perfection! No, Firth takes the top spot here due to the remarkable vulnerability he showed under a mannered veneer. It took both restraint and a tremendous amount of letting go to pull that off. Very complex and very well done. Even if the role was somewhat cookie-cutter.
2 – Jeff Bridges in True Grit
I feel like there was a better performance available with this role. It could have been underwritten, but the one complaint I had about this movie was that we didn’t get to know Rooster well enough. When that happens, it’s hard not to blame Bridges for not letting a little more of the character out. Which is a shame, because he absolutely nailed everything else.
3 – James Franco in 127 Hours
I thought Franco did solid work here, but his performance was much more a product of the writing than it was the actual acting. The script was such an intense analysis of the character that it almost seemed like Franco could have read his lines like Ben Stein in a ‘Clear Eyes’ commercial and we would have gotten at least 90% of the effect the filmmakers were after. Franco was good here – but the performance wasn’t too hard to pull off considering the way it was written.
Now, to argue the counterpoint people will make to what’s written above: That Franco carried the film by himself when he was the only thing on screen for the whole movie. A – That’s not true. B – He was made far more compelling by the cutaways and clever filmmaking tricks employed by Danny Boyle. C – That’s not true! He was on screen alone for maybe half of an 88-minute movie!
4 – Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
I’d hate to go all Michael Cera on Eisenberg – but I’ve seen him give this exact same performance at least four other times.
Not Ranked – Javier Bardem in Biutiful
I hated 21 Grams and Babel is one of the worst “good” films I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, I was in no rush to go catch Bardem in this film.
An actual Tour de Force. A role that’s written as a tour de force for any actress and Portman didn’t miss a single step. The film relied so completely on her performance to create its reality that if she’d slipped once, everything could have collapsed. Instead, she never let up, diving into her very essence as a performer in each frame, dissecting the performance she was giving on screen. Now that’s layered.
2 – Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
A delightfully stacked category. I almost wish Portman’s film had been delayed a year so I could heap all the praise on this incredibly confident gem. Lawrence anchored this film with a reserved confidence that gave us a way into this world. Another film built almost entirely around its lead’s performance, and another actor up to the task.
3 – Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine
I hate to use the term brave when describing acting because almost all real acting is brave. Witness the abandon John C. Reilly shows in Cedar Rapids – that’s incredibly brave. But Williams is a different sort of brave here. The kind that sees the actress revealing her real fears and exposing the way she connects to others with remarkable honesty. Man, this is a stacked category…
4 – Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
…Until we get to Bening. If somebody can tell me what she did in this movie other than drink wine at a table and glare over the top of her glasses, I will take you out for some locally bought grub. Not to mention the fact that she wasn’t even the lead in this film – Julianne Moore had a much more compelling role and a performance that Bening essentially just reacted to. Such a shame, there were dozens of better performances this year, but the Academy just can’t get
Not Ranked – Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole
I hate this play. I hate every single Lifetime-movie, melodramatic, non-thematic second of it. I hate the fact that it brings nothing to the table other than Nancy Grace emotion and the fact that the Rabbit Holes in Jason’s story are more correctly termed Worm Holes, except David Lindsay-Abaire apparently needed an “Alice in Wonderland” reference at all costs. Kidman is an excellent actress, but I don’t see how anybody could do anything stunning in this Meredith Baxter-Birneyesque role. Not that I’d ever spend a second seeing it.
Best Supporting Actor
This performance is about a 758 on the 1-10 Wow Factor Scale. It would have been so easy for an actor to show an ounce of compassion as he saw his niece’s situation change, but Hawkes knew his character so well, that he never allowed Teardrop to waver. Normally an actor reveals his character through the way he allows the character to change through the course of the film, but it’s that lack of development through which Hawkes revealed a bigger truth about Teardrop: That he remains the same even when the situation becomes dire and a better man would show some empathy. He never allowed Teardrop to lose his outward contempt and selfishness, even as the changing situations finally reached the point where he felt obligated to step in. It requires remarkable discipline to play a role with such force, and Hawkes did it with frightening aplomb.
2 – Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right
Oh, how I love this performance. It’s so refreshing to see an actor create a complete character from top-to-bottom and throw absolutely no presentational tricks or mannerism in to seem showy. Instead, Ruffalo just exists in this character and allows the film to happen around him.
3 – Christian Bale in The Fighter
And now we get to Bale. Every critic’s choice for “The Most Amazing Performance Ever!”. Look, that just isn’t true. There’s just too much scenery chewing here as we see an actor obsessed with transformation and not at all concerned with truth. Dicky just never seems real – he’s too out there, too wild, too acted. This is fine work, compelling work, but it’s also work that shows much more than it tells. And that’s a problem.
4 – Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech
This performance was too inconsequential. Teacher roles just never really have the appropriate depth, as they’re not much more than an instrument to their pupil’s character development. That’s basically all we got from Rush here. Unless it was so understated that I missed something.
5 – Jeremy Renner in The Town
Please. I mean please. This character doesn’t change one iota from the second he comes on screen until he sips a cup of soda he sees lying on the street. There’s absolutely no journey here. It’s just a guy screaming. This is like Bale’s performance if it had absolutely no substance. Can somebody please explain to me why actor’s get nominated for yelling while Matt Damon delivers subtle and seamless work every single year and can barely ever sniff an Oscar nomination?
Best Supporting Actress
It’s a shame nobody saw this film. Weaver created a villain for the ages in this role. A puppet master who loomed over a crime family and its misdeeds with a smile and a casserole. Never before has a hug seemed so frightening.
2 – Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
My only problem with her winning here is that this was actually a lead role, a lead role Steinfeld pulled off with remarkable poise. It’s rare to see a young actress exhibit that much control, especially as she was required to handle a labyrinth of stylized dialog that even the most seasoned actor would find challenging. What’s more is that Steinfeld served as the anchor of this film – the way for the audience to enter this strange world. The only reason I have trouble putting her at the top is because this performance was so carefully edited and coached that I have a hard time giving all praise to the actress, but this was the hardest decision of all the categories.
3 – Amy Adams in The Fighter
Amy Adams is on pace for setting the record for most times giving the best performance in a film only to have an inferior performance receive the lion’s share of the buzz. She’s transformative here: tough, brassy, and entirely believable as an “MTV Girl”. Adams can do anything, and this wildly different role proves that.
4 – Melissa Leo in The Fighter
Welcome to overrated land. Leo is fine here, but her meddlesome mother is nowhere near the tyrant of Weaver’s and that Aussie standout didn’t even need to puff up her hair. So obviously that knocks her below Weaver, but she ends up several notches farther down due to the relative simplicity of the role. This character stays on the same path the entire time, never doing much more than to show up and meddle with Mickey. That’s really not a tall order for an actress, no matter how tall her bouffant.
5 – Helena Bonham-Carter in The King’s Speech
Another extremely reactionary role. Carter didn’t have much to do here, other than appear dignified as the Queen Mum and stand by her man. A thankless role pulled off admirably, but a thankless role all the same.
Best Original Screenplay
There’s not a lot to love in this category, so Inception sneaks in on the strength of its imagination. It’s hard to think that a film should win an Oscar simply based on the strength of its premise, but in this weak field, it end up the standout. Even if a crucial plot point involved a businessman powerful enough to buy an airline on a whim, but not enough to compete at all with Cillian Murphy’s company.
2 – The King’s Speech by David Seidler
Just a nice, ordinary, solid, historical drama screenplay. Doesn’t do much new, doesn’t do anything wrong. it just does everything by the book.
3 – The Fighter by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson
Another one where it’s much more about the acting than the writing – at least in terms of public perception. The nomination’s the win here.
4 – The Kids Are All Right by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
If somebody can tell me how this script differed from every other run-of-the-mill midlife crisis rom-com in existence other than the fact that the “husband and wife” in this instance are both women, I will throw in dessert with that locally bought meal mentioned above.
Not Ranked – Another Year by Mike Leigh
How exactly do people see Mike Leigh films? Go to his house? I swear, I live in Los Angeles and the only place this played was one arthouse for half its running time. I think.
Best Adapted Screenplay
This is a perfect screenplay. Expertly structured, a story that builds on itself with each successive scene and dialog that would make Billy Wilder jealous. What more could you want?
2 – True Grit by Joel & Ethan Coen
Speaking of excellent dialog, the Coen brothers invent their own Shakespearean language in this picture. This dialog does more than serve to stylize the film. Instead, it informs the entire world of this picture – painting each character, establishing the darkly humorous tone with little more than an oddly placed sentence. The language is so rich that the film becomes almost like a visual novel. The pictures are almost secondary to the writing.
3 – Winter’s Bone by Debra Granik & Anne Roselini
Unlike Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay is absolutely loaded. I remember watching this film and being so entranced by the spareness of its screenplay and the way it made a small story seem like a grand epic. The other thing I remember is being disappointed that it wasn’t an Original Screenplay because it couldn’t beat The Social Network and it would deserve to win the Original Category. By a mile.
4 – Toy Story 3 by Michael Arndt
Did I mention this category was stacked? There’s really nothing wrong with this screenplay. Nothing at all. Its jokes are top-notch, its thematic agenda never wavers and its story moves swiftly and with purpose. And I have it fourth. Wow.
5 – 127 Hours by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
90 minutes under a rock that this screenplay turns into an insular epic of self-exploration with cutaways, dream sequences and spirit visions a-go-go. It’s a shame this category is so loaded, because this is definitely on a level deserving of a win. And it ranks fifth in this stacked field.
I’m not in love with any of these potential winners, but I give props to Fincher for expertly controlling the tone of this film and making guys staring at a computer seem like a thriller. It’d be hard to mess up this screenplay, but he managed to add something extra to it. Which is impressive in itself.
2 – Joel & Ethan Coen for True Grit
It’s just impossible to ever say a bad thing about the Coen Brothers. This is a little looser than most of their films, and they leave a lot on the table with regards to exploring theme. But the tone never wavers and they can make an anti-Western better than anyone since Peckinpah. And probably even better.
3 – Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
This movie is both a triumph and a failure for Aronofsky. A triumph in that he manages to turn the screw with delicious calculation and discipline as he allows the reality of his world to crumble around his lead. The failure: He just can’t get out of his own way and let the movie do its thing – hitting us over the head at times with symbolism. Reigned in, this is a winner. As it stands it’s just a very solid effort.
4 – David O. Russell for The Fighter
Love Russell, but this just seemed like standard fare from a very unique director. Almost like a for-the-money gig. Obviously, he rose above that because he’s just dripping with talent, but I don’t know that he brought a tremendous amount here. Though the fight sequences were masterpieces.
3 – Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
Point and shoot. And when he’s not pointing and shooting, he’s using weird fish-eyes and other showy tricks that distract from the story. I wish he’d just let the performers tell the story rather than attempting to put an oddly stylized stamp on it.
1 – The Social Network
The only film of 2010 that earned a perfect 10 in my book. There’s simply nothing wrong with it from the expertly established characters, to the borderline ingenious dialog. This film never misses a step from that breathless opening scene until we watch its empty anti-hero haplessly refreshing his Facebook profile. Brilliant work.
2 – Winter’s Bone
Some dismiss this film as ‘poverty porn’, but it rises above that moniker for me. This because we never really feel sorry for Ree as she intrepidly searches for her meth-dealing father – an Odyssey that grips you instantly and doesn’t let go as Ree gets in over her head, but keeps her confidence. This is less poverty porn, and more an examination of a world we never get to see – one of desperation and despair where there remains an incredible amount of pride.
3 – Toy Story 3
Pixar only makes excellent films. It’s just that simple. This is a beautiful story of lost youth that makes comedy out of its tragedy in the simplest way possible. Why can’t all movies be as subtle and deep as Pixar’s flicks?
4 – The Fighter
This is just a great movie where everything that doesn’t seem like it will work comes together and every cliche manages to feel original and vital. The fight sequences are events within the movie, and it finds its story within the characters – allowing the pretty standard story to seem fresh. Great mainstream filmmaking.
5 – Black Swan
The rare horror thriller much more concerned with theme than it is scares. A dart-sharp examination of a person’s self-doubt and how a need to be great eventually drives us all insane. It’s a bit baroque, but satisfies on just about all counts.
6 – True Grit
Lesser Coen, but that’s like saying lesser filet mignon. The only thing missing from this film is a deeper examination of its characters, as the movie remains mostly concerned with laying out the pipe and staying within its tone. It does that masterfully, but it’s still missing an element of depth that would make it truly exceptional.
7 – Inception
Ignoring the fact that accepting a man’s ability to infiltrate somebody’s dreams is only the fifth or sixth least plausible things in this movie, it is an incredibly fun ride. A throwback thriller where the bad guys are established and goal is clear. The set pieces are remarkable and the fight inside a rotating hallway was the best visual all year. There isn’t a lot of there there (despite the masses’ attempting to shoehorn convoluted themes into the film), but in terms of pure entertainment, this is about as fun as it gets.
8 – The King’s Speech
It probably seems like I’ve been disparaging this movie by remarking on its underwhelming performances and pretty average direction and screenplay, but this is one of those rare films that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. Everything comes together extremely well here, combining for a crowd-pleaser that’s inspiring.
9 – 127 Hours
This was a very top-heavy year for movies with just a handful of good films and a glut of clunkers. Those good films were often very good – as evidence by this movie ranking 9th. It’s a small story, but one the filmmakers manage to make feel Universal – favoring introspection for thrills and overcoming the gimmick of its ending in every way possible. A great and inspiring movie that ranks ninth in this very solid Best Picture Class.
10 – The Kids Are All Right
Not only is this movie last on the list, but there are at least four or five dozen films that belong in its tenth spot. Structurally the film is a mess, introducing subplots that don’t go anywhere and arriving at a conclusion that seems to ignore the rest of the film as a whole – finding its climax . For most of its sources of conflict, the film mines wells that are ordinarily seen as cliche, but because the film takes an indie slant on them, it’s seen as being original. They aren’t and it isn’t – it’s just below-average family comedy that is neither funny nor well-constructed.
That’s my take. Check back tomorrow to see my Final Oscar Winner Predictions.
In the meantime:
Who do you think deserves to win the Oscar?