The King's Speech: Colin Firth
The King's Speech: Colin Firth

Nominations for the 83rd Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards were announced Jan. 25, but is the race already over?

Last weekend, the Directors Guild of America bestowed its award for best direction of a feature film on Tom Hooper, helmer of The King's Speech. A couple days earlier, the Producers Guild had named that film best picture of 2010. Both the DGA and PGA awards have been reliably predictive of Oscar victories over the years. Hence, The King's Speech has displaced critics' consensus choice The Social Network as Oscar frontrunner. Call it the madness for King George.

Worse things have happened (Chicago, Slumdog Millionaire, Roberto Benigni as Best Actor). And it'd only mark the latest instance of a "triumph of the human spirit" period piece—enjoyable, well-acted but cinematically unremarkable—taking Academy honors over a groundbreaking, meticulously realized film by a visionary director.

Personally, I find such miscalls easier to take in the Best Picture category than in Best Director. Hollywood getting all reverent and mooshy over Gandhi and voting it Best Picture of 1982 was regrettable but not disgraceful; crowning Richard Attenborough's plodding direction of Gandhi over the luminosity of Steven Spielberg's E.T. was both. So if the Academy must gift The King's Speech with the top prize, I'm hoping this turns out to be one of those comparatively rare years when the awards for Picture and Director diverge, allowing The Social Network's David Fincher to get the recognition he deserves.

There are, to be sure, eight other Best Picture nominees, and given the possibilities for mischief when people are voting for 10 films in preferential order, anything could still happen. Rather like Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, released without fanfare at the end of 2004 and ultimately eclipsing the prematurely anointed The Aviator, the unexpected popular as well as critical success of the Coen brothers' Western True Grit catapulted it to 10 nominations—second only to The King's Speech. It's certainly the better movie and, I'd bet, your average filmgoer's favorite to win.

The Coens scored a Best Director nom; so did Darren Aronofsky, for Black Swan, and David O. Russell, The Fighter. This means that the directors of the other Best Pic nominees—127 Hours, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3 and Winter's Bone—didn't. And that pretty well reduces the field to five. (Yes, that's where we'd have been anyway before last year's rule change doubling the number of Picture candidates—but they wouldn't necessarily be the same five.)

So what else is news? Well, it's right and just that Javier Bardem copped a Best Actor nom for his harrowing performance in the Mexican film Biutiful. He'll lose to Colin Firth or Jesse Eisenberg. It would be too cruel if Annette Bening, of The Kids Are All Right, gets aced out of Best Actress by a young upstart for the third time—in this case Natalie Portman in Black Swan (it was Hilary Swank on two previous occasions).

As usual, the Supporting acting categories are wall-to-wall excellence; whoever wins will deserve it. Probably Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, both of The Fighter. (My own picks would be John Hawkes, Winter's Bone, and Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom.)

For a while there, the Screenplay awards used to serve as consolation prizes to Best Picture losers. If that pattern still held, justice would be done and the candidate most deserving Original Screenplay honors, The Kids Are All Right, would win. Instead, it will probably be trampled in the stampede toward The King's Speech. (Oscar oddity: a Screenplay nomination for Inception, a film critically pounded for clumsy dialogue and having endlessly to explain itself.) Screenplay–Adaptation should come out right, with the award going to Aaron Sorkin for his brilliant Social Network script. Closest competition: the Coens for True Grit.

The awards will be presented Feb. 27.

Queen Anne & Magnolia News, Feb. 2, 2011

Copyright © 2011 by Richard T. Jameson