The 83rd annual Academy Awards are less than a week away, and the Quad is here to bring you up to speed on the most popular nominees, potential upsets, and can’t miss winners for this year’s Oscars. Each day, a different critic will be counting down our top picks (and the safest bets) for the winners in each of the big categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.
The Best Director category is often the most accurate barometer for the night’s highest honor. Out of the last 5 ceremonies, only 2005’s Crash lacked the Best Director win to compliment its Best Pic statue. Each of the nominated men were successful in creating such fully realized worlds that it’s very difficult to pick out a clear front-runner.
Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan
David O. Russell – The Fighter
Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech
David Fincher – The Social Network
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – True Grit
The Favorite: David Fincher – The Social Network
This one is a tough call. The recent love from other industry organizations for The King’s Speech has called into question TSN‘s ability to win the big one, but Fincher’s bold directorial choices put him quite a few steps ahead of Speech‘s Hooper. While the Academy may chose the much more conservative Speech for the night’s highest honor, innovative style takes a backseat in his elegantly-packaged period drama. Fincher, on the other hand has proven time and again to be a financial and critical success. Countless cinephiles have noted Fincher’s transformation of Sorkin’s pages (so, so many pages) into a film that bore the unique and pronounced stamp of both auteurs equally.
Potential Upset: Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech. Or anyone else.
Speech has all the ingredients for an Academy Award love potion: lead character with a disability, gorgeous period costumes, a scrappy lower-class gentleman, British accents. But all the stereotypical Academy fetishes aside, Hopper was able to craft a thoroughly entertaining film out of nap-inducing subject matter. Hooper certainly deserves credit for drawing such profound performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, but the lack of unexpected visuals (not to discount the gorgeous interiors throughout the film) leave the upset open to any of the others. Aronofsky and the Coen Brothers have managed to generate huge box office success while also pushing their fascinating and idiosynchratic styles to the forefront of Black Swan and True Grit respectively. And let’s not forget that The Fighter burst onto the scene late last year with incredibly buzz-worthy performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and even Mark Whalberg. Russell was also able to create an incredible authenticity in his early 90’s-style recreation of “Irish” Micky Ward’s fights. The upset could be any man’s game.
Honorable Mention: Joel & Ethan Coen – True Grit
I’ll spare you all another diatribe on my love of the Coen Brothers. They’re the only contenders who have ever taken home the Best Director win before. Maybe it’s for the best that the Academy most likely won’t be choosing them. Let’s give the newcomers a chance.
Wait, What About… Christopher Nolan – Inception and Lee Unkrich – Toy Story 3
When you’re playing in the Hollywood big leagues, your director is your brand. And almost no brand in town is as powerful as the aforementioned heavy-hitters: Nolan and Unkrich (with the whole Pixar team). Of course the Directing award must go to the author of a well-crafted film, and both Inception and TS3 are impeccably made. Their reach, however, extends beyond the films themselves. While Speech or The Fighter don’t have huge inherent appeal beyond the Oscar-baited crowd, Inception and TS3 got people excited about movies again. Neither are flawless films, but their directors made innovations beyond their summer blockbuster obligations. Both told engaging stories and made their own technological advances; the Pixar team proving that 3D can subtly enhance a heartwarming tale, and Nolan defying gravity without giving in to the pressure of the 3D trend. While the critical backlash against Nolan and the Best Animated Feature category would most likely keep either from winning, it would have been nice to see Christopher Nolan and Lee Unkrich acknowledged for their accomplishments.
The Verdict: David Fincher – The Social Network
From some fantastic trick photography that made one really attractive Harvard boy into two, to the stunning regatta sequence, to the monster of a script whose inciting incident is a nerd writing some computer code, Fincher pulled out all of the best tricks up his sleeve to create one of the most talked-about, divisive and downright entertaining films of the year. TSN might not be able to steal a Best Pic statue from Speech, but David Fincher certainly deserves his own little golden man.