The Oklahoman's Oscar predictions

The Oklahoman's entertainment writers forecast Oscar winners.
BY GENE TRIPLETT, GEORGE LANG AND BRANDY MCDONNELL etriplett@opubco.com Published: February 25, 2011

Fact is giving fiction a run for its money in this year's Oscar race, with four of the 10 best picture nominees based on true stories and real people.

Biopics of a pair of boxing brothers and a canyoneering survivor were good box-office bets on critics' tip sheets in 2010, but true tales of an Internet innovator and a stammering king are the odds-on favorites in this year's run for Academy gold.

Here's how The Oklahoman's entertainment writers are calling the winners during Sunday night's moments of truth at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

Best picture

Gene says: One doesn't need a computer to figure the odds favor “The Social Network,” the superbly crafted movie screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher made out of Ben Mezrich's best-selling book, “The Accidental Billionaires,” about the creation of the most powerful electronic narcotic to sweep the world since the advent of the Internet itself. Just like everyone else, most Academy voters are probably Facebook junkies by now, and the story of the gifted geek who invented it is too timely — and the film too well-acted, well-written and utterly intriguing — to be ignored. But voters could be swayed by Tom Hooper's “The King's Speech,” the true story of a monarch who struggled against an impossible obstacle to communicate with his subjects on an inspiring, human level. Historically, heart-rending period pieces with British accents have been Oscar magnets.

Should win: “The King's Speech.”

Will win: “The Social Network.”

George says: In our second year of the 10-player pileup, best picture is still generally a battle between three or four films. Years from now, when the true quality of many of these films will be judged by their enduring value rather than their immediate impact, “The Social Network” is the stone-cold TCM classic of this year's roster, a brilliantly written and acted, beautifully concise film about fast-track ambition and its personal toll. It does not matter if Facebook is nothing but a ghost in the Google cache system 50 years from now — “The Social Network” will resonate in much the same way that “Citizen Kane” still speaks to universal truths.

But if “The Social Network” does not win, it will be to “The King's Speech” what “Raging Bull” is to “Ordinary People” or “Pulp Fiction” is to “Forrest Gump”: an asterisk. There is no taking away the craft and the spot-on acting in “The King's Speech,” but it is not the film that is unquestionably emblematic of the best of 2010 cinema. What could throw this thing is this: “The King's Speech” is far more ... Oscary. From its period setting and accents to its central triumph over adversity, it is what most academy voters associate with a best picture winner.

Should win: “The Social Network.”

Will win: “The King's Speech.”

Brandy says: What a difference six weeks makes. When “The Social Network” won four Golden Globes, including best motion picture drama, in January, the acclaimed Facebook origin tale seemed to have the Oscar race all but won. But in the past few weeks, the momentum has slowly and inexorably shifted in favor of “The King's Speech.” Both are fact-based tales whose adherence to the truth has been called into question, both boast top-shelf talents working behind and in front of the camera, and both have their indelible cinematic moments. Both are unquestioningly among the best films of the year.

But “The King's Speech” is the epitome of “Oscar bait”: A golden-lit British World War II period piece telling the inspirational tale of a king trying to overcome a disability so he can stiff-upper-lip his countrymen to victory over the Nazis.

Still, since the 83rd Academy Awards are meant to honor the filmmaking achievements of 2010, “The Social Network” ought to win. Rarely has cinema been more timely, as Facebook last year surpassed Google as America's most popular website. But Fincher and Co. also have created a timeless tale of ambition and alienation, friendship and betrayal that even Shakespeare could appreciate.

Should win: “The Social Network.”

Will win: “The King's Speech.”

Best actor

Gene says: Colin Firth will have some more public speaking to do Sunday night when he accepts this award for his keen ability to portray the male versions of vulnerable, frightened and courageous all at once, while affecting a startlingly realistic speech impediment that is heartbreaking to witness in “The King's Speech.” Few of his contemporaries could handle as dodgy a role as this with such perfection. His deserving “A Single Man” performance lost out to Jeff Bridges' “Crazy Heart” last year, and while I loved the way Bridges outgunned John Wayne with some real acting in the Coen brothers' “True Grit” remake, my allegiance this year is to Firth's stuttering King George VI.

Should and will win: Colin Firth.

George says: Last year, Firth went into the Oscars as the front-runner for his role in Tom Ford's “A Single Man,” but then he got steamrollered by Bridges' earthy and heartfelt “Crazy Heart” performance. This year, the two men face one another again, but Firth will win this time, mainly because cosmic justice will not let this happen twice and because it is such a tricky, thread-the-needle performance Firth gives in “The King's Speech.” There are so many ways his portrayal could go wrong as the stuttering King George VI, but Firth nailed it so well that he not only garnered raves from critics, but from speech pathologists as well. Truth be told, this category is stacked with amazing performances this year, but voters will choose to award Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) and Oscar co-host James Franco (“127 Hours”) with statuettes later in their careers, and while Javier Bardem is superb in “Biutiful,” the film is not as good as he is.

Should and will win: Colin Firth.

Brandy says: Rarely has a best actor category been so packed with Oscar-worthy turns and at the same time featured such a clear-cut victor. Every contender in this contest crafted a remarkable performance that had to and did carry his film, with the exception of Bridges, who belongs in the supporting category but deserves a gold star for his singular turn as Marshal Rooster J. Cogburn, the role that won John Wayne his only Oscar, in the Coen brothers' superb rendition of “True Grit.” But Firth, who lost to Bridges last year, should have his speech ready: His sensitive portrayal of a king struggling with a stutter just when his country needs to hear from him the most is absolutely majestic, and with a lesser actor in the lead, the performance — and hence the film — could have been an total disaster.

Should and will win: Colin Firth.

Best actress

Gene says: In “The Kids Are All Right,” Annette Bening effortlessly claimed hearts with her smart, funny and deeply sensitive portrayal of a lesbian mom who fears the alienation of her family's affections when her children seek out their sperm donor father and attempt to bring him into the fold. Her performance was controlled, convincing and enormously engaging, deftly avoiding the emotional showboating this kind of role can tempt from lesser talents. But “Black Swan” star Natalie Portman has youth and popularity going for her, and she never misstepped in the dramatically rich role of a prima ballerina pushed to mental breakdown. Still, Bening's been nominated three times before, so maybe her time has come.

Should win: Annette Bening.

Will win: Natalie Portman.

George says: This category is marked by genuine competition. Nicole Kidman gave the most realistic and emotionally honest performance of her career in “Rabbit Hole,” and Bening was believable in every way as a mother watching her carefully cultivated family life fall out of control in “The Kids Are All Right,” but this is Portman's award to lose, and not even starring with Ashton Kutcher in a middling rom-com can take anything away from her mesmerizing role as troubled prima ballerina Nina Sayers in “Black Swan.” The entire film hinges on whether Portman can be believed, and there isn't a second where credibility is an issue. This isn't the first time Portman has deserved it, but this time, it is hers.

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