Oscar countdown: There are 10 films in the fray this year. Which will emerge winner? Sudhish Kamath plays the guessing game
The first thing that needs to be said about the Oscars is they have absolutely no correlation with how good a film really is. Also, considering that the behaviour of the Academy's voters is dependent on a whole lot of factors other than merit, the only reason to play this guessing game is to take a closer look at the cream of the annual crop, ponder over how these films made it to the list and what stands in their way.
This year's contest for the top two prizes — the Best Picture and the Best Director — mostly revolves around films that involve heavy-duty talking: David Fincher's The Social Network and Tom Hooper's The King's Speech. So who will win? Where do the other nominees stand? Read on.
(Five nominations — Best Picture, Directing, Cinematography, Editing and Actress in a Leading Role)
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Though this story about a frail, vulnerable, disciplined and introverted ballet dancer's metamorphosis into a free-spirited, confident dancing Black Swan has all the five key nominations required to win the big prize, the bad news is — so do The King's Speech (12 nominations) and The Social Network (8 nominations) and with a better tally. Also, given its beautifully surreal form and the abstract narrative that reminds you of Mulholland Dr., this is the sort of film that requires all your attention and intellect. Hard to expect that from the bunch that voted for the racy Slumdog Millionaire or the adrenaline-pumping Hurt Locker.
(Seven nominations — Best Picture, Directing, Editing, Writing – Original Screenplay, Actor in a supporting role and two more for Actress in a supporting role)
Directed by: David O. Russell
The Fighter is that quintessential boxing picture Hollywood churns out with regular frequency, but this star vehicle made it because it also provides enough meat to the entire ensemble. It helps that it's also a family drama that plays on the brewing conflict between siblings (Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale) and their deteriorating relationship. Dysfunctional family dramas are an old favourite with the Academy. Add riveting boxing action to it and you have a knockout climax that can't go wrong. Engaging stuff but unlikely to land any of the top prizes.
(Eight nominations — Best Picture, Cinematography, Writing – Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Music – Original Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
No nomination for Christopher Nolan for Directing! A look at the other nods suggests that the Academy believes that the film rides on technical brilliance rather than storytelling flair (No Editing nomination either!) Obviously, it all went over their heads or they were just frustrated with Nolan's arrogance of ending the film the way he did — refusing to offer any definite explanation of its significance. A Best Picture nomination without a Best Director nomination is always puzzling, but trust the Academy to contradict itself. There's no way the Academy is going to shoot itself in the foot further by giving it Best Picture.
The Kids Are All Right
(Four nominations — Best Picture, Writing – Original Screenplay, Actress in a Leading Role and Actor in a Supporting Role)
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Now that there are 10 slots to fill for the Best Picture nomination, the Academy members probably thought it would be a good idea to accommodate a dysfunctional family drama that paints a picture of the ever-changing dynamics of the modern American family. The nomination for Best Picture for this story of a lesbian couple raising teenagers is at best a consolation prize for films of the genre and a token acknowledgement of independent cinema.
The King's Speech
(Twelve nominations — Best Picture, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Writing – Original Screenplay, Music – Original Score, Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound Mixing)
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Yes, Best Editing too? While the acting nods are understandable and surely deserving, and the period treatment ensured it art direction and costume design nominations, it's quite obvious that the Academy was really bowled over by The King's Speech to reward it with a dozen nominations. They probably went overboard. But here's a fun fact. The average age of the Academy voter is reportedly about 57. The Academy loves the underdog. To see a King battle a speech disability and triumph seems perfect for the voters to reserve Kodak Theatre as the stage for The King's Speech among other acceptance speeches. The Academy's favourite to win Best Film and Best Director.
(Six nominations — Best Picture, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Actor in Leading Role, Music – Original Score and Music – Original Song)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
No nomination for Danny Boyle indicates that this is just a “We have 10 slots to fill for Best Picture” decision. With no cinematography nomination either, it is evident that the Academy thinks that 127 Hours works just as a glorified show reel to document the acting powerhouse that James Franco is turning into. And yes, they still dig Rahman. Though the film is undoubtedly riveting, the 127 hours that were supposed to be frustrating, thanks to Boyle's energy and frenetic pace, flew past in no time. And that's not a compliment.
The Social Network
(Eight nominations — Best Picture, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Directing, Cinematography, Actor in a Leading Role, Music – Original Score and Sound Mixing)
Directed by: David Fincher
If the Academy voters weren't as old as they are, this is the film that would win and in my book, SHOULD win, Best Picture and Directing. For Writing and Editing. And Music. How do you make a film that's extremely verbose appeal to a generation of movie watchers with the attention span of a butterfly? Without compromising on the accuracy behind the story of a phenomenon that turned out to be a game-changer for the world and how relationships are forged. Executed superbly by Fincher and his sweet ensemble, The Social Network is the definitive story of today's world of endless possibilities, unending greed and ambition.
Toy Story 3
(Five nominations — Best Picture, Animated Feature Film, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, Music – Original Song, Sound Editing)
Directed by: Lee Unrich
Ok, so grown men sobbed like boys watching it. Enough said. It might win Animated Feature Film but to even think that this ode to toys would win the Best Picture is just too much of a stretch. Given that there's no Directing nod either, this is one of those nominations to just fill up the slots.
(Ten nominations — Best Picture, Directing, Cinematography, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing)
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
No one, not even the Coen Brothers themselves, thought that this film would yield this rich a harvest. Senior critic friends believe that the film that wins Best Editing usually wins Best Picture. Given that this is not even nominated in that category, it should be safe to assume that the Coens will not win for this loyal remake. Even their usual quirky touch is missing here in this revenge drama. If not for the period recreation and acting nominations, this shouldn't even be a contender.
(Four nominations — Best Picture, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, Actress in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role)
Directed by: Debra Granik
It is films like these that make you feel good that the Academy opened up the Best Picture shortlist from five to ten. The Grand Jury Prize winner from Sundance last year, this film about a girl's search for her missing father may not go any further in the race but aren't we glad that small, gritty, independent films got this far?