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We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tonight’s show. Now we’re on Supporting Actress. The nominees:

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Jared

I don't see the big deal, this FYC ad seems kinda classy...

The supporting categories are always tough for me because it is hard to figure out how, exactly, to weight screen time.  Should I favor being fantastic in five minutes over a solid performance in forty-five minutes?  Perhaps appropriately, I just flipped on the radio and The Zombies’s “She’s Not There” started playing.  I’m a big Amy Adams fan and loved that she got to play a little against type in The Fighter.  But she didn’t have enough to work with to make an impression on me.  She had a few memorable scenes, sure.  But I’m still not entirely certain how she nabbed a nomination over, say, Mila Kunis.

When the actress receiving a nomination is genuinely confused about it, you know Hollywood silly groupthink has reared its head again.  Like a movie?  Then vote for every single aspect of it!  Helena Bonham Carter does a perfectly fine job, but one of the five best performances of the year?  It is really odd how Hollywood can’t distinguish between different aspects of a movie they loved.

So, I fell asleep during Animal Kingdom.  Apparently I was out cold.  But don’t worry, after waking up I went back and caught what I missed.  The whole time (at least when I was awake) I was wondering how on earth Weaver managed a nomination here.  For me, it isn’t even the role being confused for the performance, but the idea of the role.  The thing is, I can totally see a film where she’d be worthy of a nomination.  One that wasn’t the most boring crime film of all time.  And one where her role gets fleshed out a little more. I really hope, though, some casting director has taken notice and casts her as the villain in some better production, because I really do think she can pull it off admirably.

I’m a little lower on Hailee Steinfeld than others.  Maybe part of it is because there’s absolutely no way to defend calling her performance supporting.  None at all.  Whoever first pitched the idea of doing so has balls the size of golden globes.  John has mentioned how much he liked Dakota Fanning in The Runaways.  Obviously the roles aren’t really comparable, but I’d tend to agree that I’m not entirely comfortable seeing Steinfeld recognized but not Fanning.  I think Steinfeld has a very bright future and hope that she soon gets new roles to be her calling card.

I don’t think this category is as strong as other this year, which perhaps is one of the reasons prognosticators are finding it a little difficult to predict.  Hilariously, Melissa Leo, probably the front-runner, shot herself in the foot by running For Your Consideration ads on her own dime.  Doesn’t she know how to play the game?  You aren’t allowed to actually say you want to win!  In any case, she’s my pick here, overcoming an awful script to create a memorable presence.  And really doing everything you’d want from a supporting actress, I think.  She always looms large, but never takes over the movie.

John

This is a tough category to pick. Whereas so many of the other categories are embarrassments of riches, I find this one to be slim pickings.

Let’s start with the women from The Fighter. Adams simply failed to make an impression on me. So many others were impressed with her work that I concede I may need another viewing. To me, she’s being swept up in an acting nomination wave for the film. I enjoyed Leo much more, but she also has a more colorful role and I can’t deny that she does seem to be Acting Very Hard.

Everyone loved Steinfeld but she actually drove me a little nuts. I don’t think it’s her fault. For one, the lack of contractions in the dialogue sounded bizarre to me from all characters. And the inflectionless way she often delivers her lines was probably directed out of her. So I think these are stylistic choices that happened to not work for me and therefore reflect poorly on Steinfeld.

Carter is a totally blah nomination. She’s good in The King’s Speech, of course, but she doesn’t get to display much of her considerable skills. It’s just such a straight-forward role. And that leaves Weaver, who you might think therefore wins by default. She plays a ruthless matriarch of a crime family in Animal Kingdom. What makes her so successfully chilling is how sweet she is while doing awful things. I think the tendency would be for the actress to really sell the fact that the sweetness is a charade, but Weaver plays it pretty straight. So she’s just acting sweet. It’s a great choice for the film, but does that make a great performance? The same performance with different words and she’s just a normal doting mother. Or am I missing some nuance?

Oh, honey.

Therefore I have concerns over them all. I’m going to choose Melissa Leo with Jacki Weaver not too far behind. I also just want Leo to win, partly because I like her and partly because I’d feel bad for her if she won all these precursors and lost. People would be blaming it on that photo spread and it would be awful.

Snubs: I’d nominate and give the Oscar to Lesley Manville for Another Year. My off-the-wall choice is Marisa Tomei in Cyrus. (Note: I may be in the bag for Marisa Tomei.)

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Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Today: What disappointing nominations do you anticipate?

Jared:The Fighter should be KO’d

At first I wondered if the cut of The Fighter in my theater was different than what everyone else seemed to have saw.  But no, the audience in my viewing seemed to have enjoyed themselves.  So I’m left to conclude that David O.Russell managed to incorporate some subliminal message telling people they love the movie and my brain just isn’t wired to receive said messages (kinda like how I can’t see those 3-D Magic Eye pictures).  Because the film is bad, failing on nearly every conceivable level, other than the acting.

I’d call the story cliche, but that would assume there was any semblance of a story.  We get very clear depictions of each character’s lot in life, but no clue as to got they got from point A to B.  To wit, the relationship between Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams is almost entirely glossed over.  They meet, go out on a date, some undefined time apparently passes and then they are inseparable.  Time, I should point out, is also irrelevant to the filmmakers.  Anyone have any clue the time between Wahlberg’s first fight show in the film and his title bout?  Melissa Leo and Christian Bale both see their characters kinda sorta maybe have a change of heart, but it isn’t clear how superficial that change is or why we should care.  Of course, that little change is really the only character or plot development in the entire film.

But OK, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a simple story.  The Fighter is a boxing movie and obviously a good chunk of boxing movies involve the fights, and it is hard to advance the story too much while the main character is in the ring.  But here’s why I’m absolutely appalled David O. Russell is on the shortlist for a best director nom: the boxing is depicted as if he really rather doesn’t like the sport.  The final match aside, the fights are glossed over at best, portrayed as some weird rejected video game cut scene at worst.  Not even bland, the fighting scenes are, if you’ll excuse my limited vocabulary, stupid.  They aren’t suspenseful, interesting, exciting, or even artistic.  Just a complete waste of time.

"Say hi to yourself for me."

Absolute worst of all, though, was the character interactions.  It felt like a quarter of the movie could be described in the following three beats: Character A says a line talking at character B.  Character B “responds” with something no human would say and tangentially relevant to what character A said.  Then there’s a cue (be it in the dialogue or visual) about how these people are white trash.  I could see a line or two for comic relief, maybe, but the filmmakers felt this bizarre need to consistently unsubtly describe the characters and their town as white trash.  It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t clever, it was just obvious and worse, it was mean.

So when Mo’Nique reads off The Fighter as a best picture nom, I’m going to be disappointed that a movie which had great acting, but failed on nearly every conceivably important other level is taking the place of so many other actually watchable films.

John: Man the levies, nomination waves are coming!

The nomination wave: it’s a common occurrence in Oscar season. A beloved film gets support across all guilds, sweeping many to nominations even if their work wasn’t as exemplary. It’s going to happen to two supporting actresses this year.

She wasn't nearly as committed to head enlargement in The King's Speech

The first, and most prominent, is Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech. Carter is a great, versatile actress, but this is such a nothing performance. It’s not like she’s bad, but she’s a stock supporting character without a ton to do. She’s more interesting this year in both Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter. Even she admits to being puzzled over why this performance is getting singled out for award attention.

I'm wicked strong willed!

The other is Amy Adams for The Fighter, a sentiment I know is not shared by many. I’ve actually seen plenty of arguments that she’s the supporting female star in the film and not supposed category front runner Melissa Leo. I just don’t think she does much beyond sporting a Boston accent. The film’s treatment of her character bothered me, and part of it is due to her performance (though the bulk is probably the script’s fault).

I’ve always said I’m an Amy Adams fan, but this is the third time I’ve come to complain about her on this blog so maybe my affection is waning? But maybe she just gets recognized for the wrong roles. Oscar nod for Doubt, critical acclaim for Sunshine Cleaning, and a probable nod for The Fighter, but not enough support for Enchanted or Julie & Julia.

Brian: The Town will rob a nomination from a more deserving film

Jared and John adeptly discussed why The Town is overrated last month. As Jared put it in his elegant way, “Frankly, I don’t even think the film is particularly good genre fare, much less a good movie.” So since they’ve covered much of why its bad, especially the horribly underdeveloped relationship between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall, I’ll keep my entry to this category short.

A Best Picture nom for The Town would be an embarrassment as it would only provide fodder for those critics who last year assailed the Academy’s decision to expand the category to 10 films. “It will allow mediocre, commercially successful films to sneak in,” they warned — and The Town is just that. After last year, when the final 10 offered a little something for everyone to be happy about, I hoped that these concerns would be laid to rest. But I imagine they will reappear on Tuesday when The Town gets its undue recognition.

Does anyone know why we love each other?

How anyone can deem that the best of the year is beyond me. The characters were one-dimensional (ooh, Jeremy Renner as a hothead!), the stakes were non-existent, the shootout at Fenway was cool to watch but ultimately unfulfilling, and the heists were forgettable. It’s as if the Academy has a Departed hangover and thinks that all Boston-related movies are somehow deep because people have funny accents. (Also see: The Fighter) So put this down as my big disappointment.

Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best Supporting Actress.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Nobody

There are at least ten women you could legitimately claim to have, based on precursor awards, a shot at a nomination.  Coupled with the fact that the Oscars have a tendency to go crazy in the supporting categories (as commenter Sarah astutely pointed out) and you are looking at a category impossible to call with any certainty.

LIKELY IN

  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Everything I’ve read about True Grit suggests two things about Steinfeld: that’s she absolutely deserving of a nomination; that nomination should be for a leading role as she’s in every single scene.  I haven’t seen the movie yet so I can’t weigh in there.  Best Actress is a crazy tough category to break into this year, so I understand why she’s been campaigned as supporting, but Oscar voters are free to place her as they see fit.  I’m enjoying the Melissa Leo buzz because it means Adam gets to rant about Frozen River some more.  She plays a mother quite easy to hate, desperately close to going over the top as a scheming, manipulating manager/mom, but never quite doing so.  Impressive considering how much of a hack job that script was.  I loved The King’s Speech and I’m always a fan of nominations for muted performances, but I don’t know, I think Helena Bonham Carter is riding the coattails of the movie and her co-stars.  Not her fault, her character is really only given two or three instances to shine.

LAST TWO IN

Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

I reserve the right to change my predictions, but here’s where I’m at right this instant.  Black Swan has been getting widespread support in the precursors, suggesting to me there’s an opportunity for it to pick up a nomination in this category.  I’ll get to the other contender shortly, but, if you’ll forgive my crassness,  given that I’m predicting a forty-something, fifty-something, sixty-something, and a fourteen year old, I think the Academy will find a place for the incredibly sexy Mila Kunis.  Which, please understand, isn’t meant to take away anything from her performance as the sometimes real, sometimes friend, sometimes rival, sometimes missing half to Natalie Portman’s character.  Animal Kingdom will be arriving very shortly, so I can’t speak to it, but from everything I hear, the only way Weaver doesn’t get the nomination is if not enough voters saw the movie.

FIRST THREE OUT

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
  • Lesley Manville, Another Year

Amy Adams has garnered a number of precursor nominations, is ridiculously cute, and is a damn fine actress, but her character lacks depth.  Given the crowded race, I think if voters have to choose only one supportive partner, they go with Bonham Carter or one actress from The Fighter, they go with Leo.  But if/when I’m wrong, it most likely will be her.  Way  back before people had really seen the film, Hershey was touted as strong favorite here.  Her star has dimmed a little since then, perhaps because there are so many other actresses playing mothers with severe issues handling their offspring.  I’m stunned I can’t find a place for Manville, given director Mike Leigh’s consistent ability to create strong, Oscar-friendly female characters.  I’m told she’s wonderful, it again may just come down who did due diligence and watched her film.

DARK HORSES

  • Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
  • Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer
  • Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
  • Pretty much anyone from For Colored Girls

Everyone was talking about Dianne Wiest and then no one was, I don’t quite get it.  Dollhouse proved to me that Olivia Williams deserves more recognition, and she’s actually quite good in The Ghost Writer, the film just can’t get any traction in the U.S. (and rightly so).   If I had done this two months ago, I would have put Dickey in the top five, given the buzz for Winter’s Bone, and she’s absolutely deserving of a spot.  I hope whoever did the awards promotion for For Colored Girls learned some lessons from the near total failure to get the film out there.  Granted, I hear the subject matter is difficult and it is can be hard to narrow down an ensemble, but we’re looking at a year with twenty white nominees.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

Marion Cotillard, Inception
Rosamund Pike, Made in Dagenham
Ellen Wong, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Rebecca Hall, Please Give
Ellen Burstyn, Lovely, Still
Julianna Margulies, City Island
Patricia Clarkson, Easy A
Annette Bening, Mother and Child

I think I’m leaving out at least a half-dozen interesting performances.  A pretty strong year for supporting actress roles, if you ask me.

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