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We can eliminate most of these titles right off the bat. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a sore-thumb embarrassment on the ballot, and there's more chance of a Santorum-Palin ticket taking the White House than of this dreck winning the top prize (besides, the fact that it only has one other nomination, for von Sydow, indicates a scarcity of support for it). Midnight in Paris is a sweet little film, but hardly in the class of Allen's Oscar-winning Annie Hall. The Tree of Life is too esoteric for Academy tastes. The Help might have loomed large as a populist pick had it snagged more additional nominations than just the three acting ones (it failed to score important writing and directing nods). Along similar lines, War Horse was blanked in the major categories, earning its other five bids in technical categories. That leaves four titles. Moneyball surprised many by earning the third highest number of nominations, besting likelier contenders such as The Descendants and The Help. But for all its acclaim, it's hard to see this brainy sports flick going all the way. The Descendants fills that actor- and script-driven, humanist comedy-drama slot previously occupied by the likes of Sideways, Juno and Up in the Air, which means it will have plenty of supporters but not quite enough to pull off the upset. Hugo leads the field with 11 nominations, and more often than not, the film with the most nods ends up taking Best Picture. But for all its acclaim, Hugo has proven to be a bit too measured and cerebral for widespread support, and there are certain to be a number of these detractors in the Academy — a group that, let's face it, has also never given Scorsese his proper due (yeah, yeah, I know The Departed won him an Oscar, but where was the love for his true classics, films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and GoodFellas?). So what's left is The Artist, which earned a sizable 10 nominations and has lately been winning all of the big ones. I won't be upset if The Artist wins Best Picture, as it made my 10 Best list (although not as high as The Descendants and Hugo, which filled my top two spots). But I will nonetheless feel a pang of disappointment, not only because what promised to be an exciting season turned out to be so predictable, but also because there's a great chance that Weinstein's shameless campaigning might result in his films taking all four major prizes (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress). If that occurs, I'll move that the easily manipulated Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences officially change its name to the Academy of Harvey Weinstein and be done with it.
Prediction: The Artist.
Preference: The Descendants.
BEYOND OSCAR: To check out CL's look at the Best (& Worst) Films and Performances of 2011, go here.)
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