Silence is Golden
By Carl Kozlowski
No matter who wins actual Oscars Sunday, the biggest winners are likely to be home audiences, who will be able to enjoy Billy Crystal as host for the first time in a decade. But having one of the greatest hosts ever return to the stage is just the cherry on top of a night filled with surprisingly worthy nominees.
Here are my picks for the six main awards of the night.
Best Supporting Actress: Some years, there’s one iconic performance that practically demands an Oscar, and this time around that honor falls to Octavia Spencer, who broke out of a long career of small character roles to steal Best Picture nominee for The Help. As a maid who gets wildly comic revenge against a particularly racist employer, she drew audience cheers in a way that normally is reserved for male action heroes. Melissa McCarthy also delivered a uniquely groundbreaking performance in Bridesmaids, but The Help had a meaningful message that will carry it onto the stage of the world’s biggest awards ceremony.
Best Supporting Actor: This category comes down to two veteran performers who have produced classic work for decades: Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Christopher Plummer in Beginners. Von Sydow’s silent role as a man so racked by tragedy that he refuses to speak anymore is powerful, but silent Best Picture nominee The Artist is going to rake in a bevy of little gold men and voters are going to want to mix things up a little. Plummer, who’s deserved an Oscar several times stretching back to his 1965 role in The Sound of Music, is going to win this year both for his role as an octogenarian coming out of the closet and for his overall career achievements.
Best Actress: Newcomer Rooney Mara played the year’s most unpleasant female lead character in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, while Glenn Close basically remade The Crying Game with her turn as a woman pretending to be a man in Albert Nobbs. Michelle Williams will win someday, considering she picked up her second nomination in a row (after last year’s dismal Blue Valentine) for playing Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. But this comes down to a two-woman race between Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and Viola Davis as the main maid, who finds her self-esteem and courage develop into a demand for dignity, in The Help. Davis will win, both because she stole audience hearts in her much more popular movie and because The Help delivers the kind of message Oscar voters love to reward.
Best Actor: This is the one category in which I truly wish a different actor could win than the one I’m certain will win. Demian Bichir delivered the best performance I’ve ever seen as an undocumented worker desperately searching Los Angeles for the stolen truck that’s the key to a better life for his teenage son in A Better Life, but the film’s miniscule box office last summer meant that its studio has refused to spend big money in support of helping Bichir win. Aside from Bichir’s miraculous performance, the race is between French newcomer Jean Dujardin’s flamboyant turn as a fading silent movie star in The Artist and George Clooney’s perfectly calibrated balance between comedy and heart-wrenching tragedy in The Descendants. With his studio running more ads for his performance than for the film’s Best Picture campaign, Clooney probably has the win sewn up.
Best Director: While it’s a pleasant surprise to see Woody Allen score both directing and writing noms at age 75 for Midnight in Paris (the biggest box office hit of his career), he’ll likely have to settle for winning the screenplay award. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo has failed at the box office to an embarrassing extent, and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is so maddeningly obscure that he’s only going to score with the most pretentious of voters. That leaves Alexander Payne’s terrific blend of comedy and tragedy in The Descendants and first-time nominee Michel Hazanavicius with The Artist. It’s going to be Hazanivicius for the win — Payne always does a great job with humane dramedies, but The Artist is the first silent film since Mel Brooks’ 1976 comedy Silent Movie.
Best Picture: Most of the time, the Best Picture Oscar goes to whoever won Best Director, and that’s likely to be the case again with The Artist taking home the trophy. At a time of national uncertainty and a shifting entertainment marketplace that has Hollywood scared traditional movie-going might soon become irrelevant, The Artist is a magical reminder of the age when watching movies was a weekly national pastime. This would make it the first silent movie to win since Wings in 1927, creating a once-in-a-lifetime historic bookend for the Academy. However, my heart goes out to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film about a young boy and his mom coming to terms with the loss of his dad on 9/11 that I’ve now seen three times and had a more powerful emotional reaction each time. Make sure you see both of these films.