As February transitions into March, we reach that electrifying time of year when America’s crowning institution of mainstream myth-making, Hollywood, holds its grandiose commemoration of all images fair-skinned and beautiful: the Oscars. Held for the last 82 years to celebrate excellence in the film industry, the Academy Awards typically bestow gold-plated action figures to the films that best embody a time-honored tradition of portraying historical figures and events, sensationalizing the mentally handicapped, and highlighting the lives of heterosexual white people. At this point in time, we know the Oscars don’t necessarily recognize the films or performers most deserving of praise—see Crash’s victory over Brokeback Mountain in 2006, or Anthony Perkins’ missing nomination for Psycho—but as the oldest award ceremony in the media, it still puts on one hell of a show.
This year’s Academy Awards features hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway, an odd pair obviously chosen to appeal to a younger demographic. However, considering that both Hathaway and Franco possess comedic chops, and that even a washed-up Billy Crystal could top last year’s phoned-in performance from Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, this year’s hosts sound promising. Interestingly enough, James Franco is not the first but the seventh host to be nominated for an Academy Award on the same night.
Which brings us to the real meat and bones of Oscar discussion: the awards themselves. Last year introduced an additional five nominees to the Best Motion Picture award to allow for broader diversity in the category (i.e. attract higher ratings and emphasize the Academy’s “open-mindedness”) and this year’s flock contained no surprises. Dripping in Oscar-flavor, The King’s Speech, a period piece full of catharsis and British accents, remains the favorite in the category. While not quite as inventive as Inception or The Social Network—both of which I’d prefer as victors—I still loved The King’s Speech enough to accept its all-but-inevitable triumph on Oscar night. In a survey of the Pomona College student body, the majority of respondents agreed that the film’s portrayal of King George VI’s struggle with a speech impediment clearly deserves the award.
The majority of respondents also agreed that Colin Firth’s performance in The King’s Speech merits the award for Best Actor. While I loved Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as a cold, unsettling Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Firth evidently should, and will, win the award. He immersed himself in King George VI’s crippling insecurities to produce a strikingly convincing performance that quite simply stood out over the rest.
Although the race for Best Actress is slightly more contentious than that of Best Actor, survey results produced a more one-sided consensus than expected. An overwhelming majority of respondents believed that Natalie Portman’s performance in Black Swan as the delicate but disturbed ballerina, Nina Sayers, deserves the award for Best Actress. I wholeheartedly agree—Portman’s visceral performance not only outshined those of the other actresses in her category, it stands out as the year’s best performance by any actor.
For Best Supporting Actor, the survey results yielded a surprise, favoring Geoffrey Rush as King George VI’s vocal therapist Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech. Christian Bale’s performance as boxing trainer Dicky Eklund in The Fighter remains the current favorite among Oscar experts, and I must agree. The fact is, Geoffrey Rush delivered what we expect of Geoffrey Rush: a bug-eyed eccentric with unmistakable charm. On the other hand, Bale’s immersion in Dicky Eklund’s nervous mannerisms and gaunt appearance—including losing considerable weight to reflect Eklund’s drug habit—felt too real to deny him the Oscar this year.
Hollywood newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, in a show-stopping performance as True Grit’s Mattie Ross, received the most survey votes to win Best Supporting Actress. Full of stunning performances, this category proves the most difficult to parse. In my opinion, Steinfeld’s biggest competition comes from Melissa Leo, previously nominated for 2008’s Frozen River. As Micky Ward’s overbearing mother in The Fighter, Leo painted sympathy beneath Alice Ward’s brash arrogance that redeemed her character’s many faults. I believe she deserves the award if only for how naturally and confidently she inhabited such a difficult role.
Black Swan’s director Darren Aronofsky just barely earned more votes than The Social Network’s David Fincher, and although the former continues to distinguish himself through fearless filmmaking, Fincher deserves the award for infusing his distinct visual style into a flawlessly written film. I will briefly and obnoxiously gripe about Christopher Nolan’s disgraceful lack of a nomination: simply put, no film this year represented a director’s vision and voice more perfectly than Inception, and had Nolan received a nomination, I would favor him for the award.
So, whether you watch Sunday’s ceremony to provide background noise for calc homework, to see faceless graffiti artist Banksy accept the award for Best Documentary, or as an excuse for a drinking game (take a shot every time a host or presenter mentions George Clooney), the Oscars are certain not to disappoint.