Print This Article The Wichita Eagle Back to web version
Sunday, April 6, 2014

Oscar’s night

Tonight’s Academy Awards features big stars and unfamiliar faces vying for gold

By Rod Pocowatchit
The Wichita Eagle

Who would have thought a small silent film would be making such noise at the Academy Awards in this day and age – when louder and bigger aren’t loud or big enough?

But “The Artist” could be victorious at tonight’s Academy Awards, with returning host Billy Crystal.

And I hope it’s not the only victory to celebrate, as Wichita has a special connection to Oscar this year — Wichitan Ethan McCord is the subject of “Incident in New Baghdad,” nominated for best short documentary film.

So settle in, it’s going to be a long, star-studded, glittery night. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here is a look at my predictions in major categories:

Best picture

“The Artist”

“The Descendants”

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

“The Help”

“Hugo”

“Midnight in Paris”

“Moneyball”

“The Tree of Life”

“War Horse”

Under revised rules (again), up to 10 films could have been nominated this year. “Extremely Loud” was a surprise nomination, especially considering the film didn’t generate glowing reviews from critics (neither did “War Horse,” but, hey, it’s Spielberg).

And I still don’t understand the accolades for the baffling “Tree of Life.” It went over my head, and I’m pretty tall.

“Descendants” won the Golden Globe for best picture, but that was a surprise.

So the race basically comes down to “The Artist” and “The Help” – both worthy of the Oscar.

“The Help” won the Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble performance – that group’s version of best picture.

But “The Artist” has been so lovingly adored that it should win here. And it’s an homage to the glory days of film, which Oscar will appreciate.

Oscar guess: “The Artist”

My vote: “The Artist”

Actor in a leading role

Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”

George Clooney, “The Descendants”

Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”

Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Newcomer Bichir was a somewhat surprise nominee for his earnest performance as a Mexican gardener fighting to create a better life for himself and his son, even though he was also nominated for the Screen Actor’s Guild award. He’s the longshot here.

Oldman’s nomination also recognizes his long career, but his turn as a British intelligence agent isn’t getting buzz to win.

Neither is Pitt, which is a shame, because he delivered his best acting ever as real-life baseball general manager Billy Beane.

So it comes down to Clooney, who won the Golden Globe (for drama), and gave the best performance of his career as a husband and father coming to grips with infidelity and mortality, and Dujardin, who radiated with charm, heartache and despair with practically no dialogue as a fading silent film star. He won the SAG award, and he should win the Oscar, too.

Oscar guess: Dujardin

My vote: Dujardin

Actress in a leading role

Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”

Viola Davis, “The Help”

Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”

Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

Mara is the newcomer here, for her ferocious turn as computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, and she’s the longshot.

It’s a shame that Close still hasn’t won an Oscar (having been previously nominated for lead actress in 1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons” and 1987’s “Fatal Attraction,” and supporting actress in 1982’s “The World According to Garp,” 1983’s “The Big Chill” and 1984’s “The Natural”), but she won’t win this year, either, with her too-stoic turn as a woman posing as a man in 19th-century Ireland.

Williams won the Golden Globe (musical or comedy category), but her performance as Marilyn Monroe isn’t getting buzz to win.

So it comes down to Streep, who has been nominated more than any other performer with 16 nominations (she won supporting actress for 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and lead actress for 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice”), for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Davis (previously nominated for 2008’s “Doubt”) for her role as a maid who bravely bucks the system.

It’s a tough call. Streep’s performance won the Golden Globe (for drama) and is technically brilliant – her turn as Thatcher is astoundingly uncanny. But Davis won the Screen Actor’s Guild award, and if she wins she’ll become only the second black actress (after Halle Berry) to win a lead-actress Oscar. Davis seems to have the edge, but it could be a toss-up.

Oscar guess: Davis

My vote: Streep

Actor in a supporting role

Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”

Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”

Nick Nolte, “Warrior”

Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

Von Sydow (previously nominated for lead actor in 1988’s “Pelle the Conqueror”) was a surprise nominee here, but shouldn’t have been in a role that has Oscar written all over it (an elderly mute). Still, he’s the longshot.

First-time nominee Hill portrayed Billy Beane’s assistant general manager with impressive subdued restraint, while Nolte (previously nominated for lead actor in 1998’s “Affliction” and 1991’s “The Prince of Tides”) gave the performance of his career as an estranged father trying to right his wrongs with his fighter sons.

Branagh (who was previously nominated for lead actor in 1989’s “Henry V” and has four other nominations in other categories) isn’t getting buzz to win for his beloved performance as Laurence Olivier.

Plummer has been the favorite here all through awards season, and giving him the statuette will also recognize his long, distinguished career. It’s not solely a sentimental vote, though — his turn as a widower who explores his newfound gay lifestyle was colorful and moving. I first predicted he’d win an Oscar for “Beginners” as soon as I saw the film last summer — and he will.

Oscar guess: Plummer

My vote: Plummer

Actress in a supporting role

Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”

Jessica Chastain, “The Help”

Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”

Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”

Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Only McTeer has been nominated before (lead actress in 1999’s “Tumbleweeds”), and her performance in “Nobbs” was convincing, but hardly winning material.

Chastain rightfully earned a nom for her role as a wife trying to hide her shortcomings from her husband, and McCarthy pulled off a rare nod for comedy as a masculine bridesmaid, but neither are getting buzz to win.

Bejo was marvelous in a role that relied on physical acting with no dialogue – she could benefit from an “Artist” sweep.

But Spencer has won nearly all the precursor awards for her superb turn as a headstrong maid, shading her performance with comedy and rage. She deserves the Oscar, and could become the fifth black actress to win in this category (following Hattie McDaniel, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson and Mo’Nique).

Oscar guess: Spencer

My vote: Spencer

Directing

Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”

Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”

Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”

Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”

Newcomer Hazanavicius finds himself on a pretty impressive list.

Malick has been nominated for writing and directing 1998’s “The Thin Red Line.” His work on “Tree of Life” radiated with a wondrous sense of time and place, but the loopy narrative lost me.

Payne was nominated for directing 2004’s “Sideways” (he won for its screenplay and was also nominated for writing 1999’s “Election”). His work on “Descendants” was undeniably masterful, and he guided Clooney to his best performance.

This is Allen’s 23rd nomination (including both writing and directing – he won for writing 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” and writing and directing 1977’s “Annie Hall”). “Paris” is his most successful film to date, and was wonderfully whimsical and creative.

And Scorsese has been nominated 10 times for writing and directing (he won for directing 2006’s “The Departed”). His work in “Hugo” is beautiful and heartfelt — it’s his love letter to cinema and film preservation.

But — as amazing as it is among such esteemed peers — Hazanavicius outshines them all with his work in “The Artist.” He never let the premise get gimmicky and added lots of dazzling touches an already stylized narrative. The Director’s Guild honored him with their award, and I think the Academy will, too.

Oscar guess: Hazanavicius

My vote: Hazanavicius

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

© 2012 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansas.com