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All hail the King!: What to know about this year’s Oscars

There seems to be a concerted effort to draw in a younger demographic of viewership with co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco presiding over the event. Although both actors are certainly likable and talented, it remains to be seen whether they can ably host this austere occasion. In a bit of an unusual twist, James Franco will serve as both host and nominee as he is nominated for Best Actor for his performance as ill-fated hiker Aron Ralston in 127 Hours.

Below are my Oscar picks and suggestions to make the most of this awards season:

Best Actor: This category seems to belong to Colin Firth. He has won every major award for this category, including the Golden Globe and the SAG award, and it seems inevitable that the Oscar will go to him for his portrayal of the stammering, insecure King George VI in The King’s Speech—and most deservedly so. Since Firth burst into the public consciousness for his portrayal as Mr. Darcy in A&E’s production of Pride and Prejudice, he has assembled quite a impressive body of work, including roles in films such as The Importance of Being Earnest, Shakespeare in Love, Bridget Jones’ Diary and the sequel (where he played “Mark Darcy”), Girl With a Pearl Earring, Love Actually, Mamma Mia!, Easy Virtue, Dorian Gray, and A Single Man, where he was Oscar nominated for his performance last year.  Even Meredith Vieira on the Today show enthused about the film and told a blushing Firth in an interview after he learned of his Oscar nomination, that she was available “to polish his statue.”  I don’t think she fully understood the double entendre of that statement, but to be sure: 2011 is Colin Firth’s year and I predict that he, along with The King’s Speech, will dominate the awards in this year’s ceremony. 

Best Actress:  Natalie Portman is the rumored favorite for this category for her portrayal of a ballerina wrestling with her own sanity in Black Swan.  She too, has already secured the Golden Globe and the SAG award for her portrayal.  Her engagement to Benjamin Millepied, the choreographer of the film and her pregnancy seem to be the perfect complements to a fairy tale-like ending.  Rest assured, she is in good company with fellow nominees Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, and Jennifer Lawrence.  However, I do believe that Portman will come out on top.  Side note:  Admittedly, ladies, telling your boyfriend/husband/partner that you want to go see a film about ballet is likely to be met with audible sighs and not-so-subtle protests. If you mention, however, there is a fairly graphic lesbian love scene between Portman and co-star Mila Kunis, they may trip over you to get to the theater. Portman did not refer to Kunis as “sweet lips” in her Golden Globe acceptance speech for nothing…

Best Supporting Actor:  The actors in this category represent some of the finest films of the year including The King’s Speech, The Kids Are All Right, The Town, Winter’s Bone, and The Fighter. However, pending a potential upset that sometimes seems to come with the supporting actor/actress categories, Christian Bale should secure the award. His portrayal of crack-addicted, former prize fighter Dicky Eklund easily eclipses Mark Wahlberg from the title role and showcases the actor’s amazing talent. Indeed, Bale is nearly unrecognizable in his performance with his Bostonian accent, gaunt face, and disheveled appearance. It also is nice to see a good film like The Fighter get some worthy accolades.

Best Supporting Actress: The Fighter also seems poised to come out on top in this category as well with two actresses from the film, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, going head-to-head for this award. Melissa Leo, less than 14 years older than Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, convincingly portrays their mother, Alice Ward, the tough-talking, shrewd matriarch of her very own fighting family dynasty. It is likely that Oscar gold will strike for her on this occasion as well.  Although, I have to admit, I would love to see a steal from Amy Adams. She took the “girlfriend” role (of Mark Wahlberg’s character) in the film and transcended any sort of limitations…and there is a sort of guilty pleasure to watching the former wide-eyed Enchanted Disney princess kicking some serious ass.

Best Picture/Best Director:  These categories don’t necessarily need to go hand-in-hand, but as one can surmise, they often do. Ten films are nominated for best picture in the Oscar category, while only five nominations are cast for director. Due to the current awards climate, it would seem that the true competition is between The Social Network and The King’s Speech. The Social Network secured the Golden Globe for Best Picture over The King’s Speech making it a more likely early candidate. Since then, however, The King’s Speech has gone on to win four prestigious awards, including the Best Picture award by the Directors Guild, Producers Guild, and the Screen Actors Guild, which also awarded the film for the Best Cast Award. The King’s Speech is suddenly the emerging favorite. Quite frankly, it is more deserving. Don’t get me wrong: The Social Network is a good, well-acted movie that should be on the top of your movie list. However, The King’s Speech is the stuff of greatness. It is not just the story of a stammering monarch struggling to fulfill his role as king. It is the story of an underdog assuming an unlikely role and struggling to succeed at it—this human thread makes the story more relatable, resonating, and powerful. This is precisely why it will triumph as best picture with Tom Hooper securing the award for best director.

            Five Things You Should Do Before the Oscars: 

1)    Go see The King’s Speech (for reasons, see above).

2)    Rent The Kids Are All Right. If you missed this movie when it was at the Art Theater several months ago, redeem yourself and rent it on video.  It is a wonderfully unconventional heartfelt love story of sorts about two lesbian mothers (Oscar-nominated Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) who are raising their teenage children when their sperm donor (Oscar-nominated Mark Ruffalo) abruptly enters their lives. It is a powerful examination of what it takes—and doesn’t take—to be a family.

3)    Also, rent Winter’s Bone. This film, the winner of the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury prize, is also nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes), and Best Adapted Screenplay. This film chronicles 17-year-old Ree Dolly who struggles to keep her family alive in the Ozark back country. When she learns from the local sheriff that her absent, crystal meth manufacturing father has put up the family home as collateral for his bail and that the family will lose the house if he fails to show up to trial, she sets out to try to find him-despite everyone’s warnings to mind her own business. This is a harrowing film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

4)    Listen to the Oscar-nominated original score from 127 Hours by A.R. Rahman. Rahman, recent Oscar recipient from his work on the film Slumdog Millionaire, has somehow managed to musically capture the pathos of the film, of a man’s struggles to live while simultaneously courting death. It is haunting, riveting, masterful…and definitely worth a listen.

5)    Watch Oscar nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. Billed as a “street art disaster movie,” this is the story of Frenchman Thierry Guetta’s attempts to capture the emerging medium of street art on film and to befriend the ultimate street artist, the elusive and notoriously press-shy English street artist Banksy. An unlikely friendship develops-until the tables get turned.  This is a fascinating look at the power of social mediums and the trappings of the modern art world…without putting you to sleep. It is both engaging, entertaining, and unexpected.

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