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

Should and will win: Natalie Portman.

Brandy says: Despite the wealth of talent — even with the absence of teen powerhouse Hailee Steinfeld, whose starring turn in “True Grit” was relegated to the supporting category in a clear case of a studio playing Oscar politics — this year's best actress contest has been billed as a two-woman race between Bening, whose turn as a lesbian mom trying to keep her family together in “The Kids Are All Right” won the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy, and Portman, whose performance as a prima ballerina breaking down in “Black Swan” earned the Globe for best actress in a drama. The academy loves to finally give people their due, and Bening is on her fourth nomination. But like Bridges last year, Bening will have to wait for nomination No. 5 to get her long-awaited Oscar. Portman stayed on her toes all the way through her ballet thriller's spellbinding finale, and she never faltered in her utterly authentic performance not only as a skilled prima ballerina but also as a damaged soul losing her grip on reality.

Should and will win: Natalie Portman.

Best supporting actor

Gene says: Geoffrey Rush's disarming, low-key take on the oddball Australian speech therapist who comes to the aid of a stammering monarch in “The King's Speech” was easily one of the most interesting characterizations of the past year, as were John Hawkes' unsettlingly dark backwoods criminal in “Winter's Bone” and Mark Ruffalo's shaggily charming family interloper in “The Kids Are All Right.” But Christian Bale was part of the stunning one-two punch of “The Fighter” as the ex-con, failed-boxer-turned-crackhead who trains his half brother for the welterweight title. His convincingly wired, wild-eyed performance had an unforgettable clout that will no doubt win him the decision.

Should win: Geoffrey Rush.

Will win: Christian Bale.

George says: If it weren't for Bale's singularly believable, heartbreaking, disturbing and occasionally funny performance as crack-addicted ex-boxer Dicky Eklund in “The Fighter,” the competition would be wide open: Hawkes, Ruffalo, Rush and Jeremy Renner (“The Town”) all merit serious consideration. If anyone is likely to pull an upset here, it's likely to be Rush, whose portrayal of royal speech therapist Lionel Logue was a study in empathy and strength. But seriously, no one left more on the screen than Bale this year — it is a performance that sears itself into memory.

Should and will win: Christian Bale.

Brandy says: Like the best actor race, the supporting category is packed with talent, but the winner is a forgone conclusion. Hawkes will have his career rightly transformed by the nomination, Ruffalo will finally get the props he has long warranted, Renner will continue to build his burgeoning reputation as an explosive actor, and previous Oscar victor Rush will add more shine to his already illustrious career. But Bale, who has finally received the first Oscar nod of his celebrated career, wrenched guts and hearts alike with his hard-hitting turn as a once-promising welterweight contender whose drug addiction has left him with wild-eyed mood swings, desperate delusions of grandeur and one shot at redemption — and vicarious victory — as his half brother's trainer in the powerful boxing biopic “The Fighter.”

Should and will win: Christian Bale.

Best supporting actress

Gene says: Former Tulsa resident Melissa Leo was the other half of “The Fighter's” double whammy as the domineering matriarch of a blue-collar Lowell, Mass., family and the abrasive manager of her two boxing sons. She nailed the part perfectly, right down to the spot-on Massachusetts accent. The only other contender who comes close is 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as the spitfire farm girl out for justice in the Coen brothers' version of “True Grit,” although she should have been nominated as a leading actress in that role.

Should and will win: Melissa Leo.

George says: Don't get me wrong — newcomer Steinfeld delivers in a difficult to calibrate and ultimately unforgettable performance as Mattie Ross in “True Grit,” but her inclusion in this category has more to do with strategy and jockeying for position than it does with screen time and responsibility. She is in nearly every frame of “True Grit,” and her work is just as important as Bridges' performance to the success of the film, but the studio obviously did not think Steinfeld could compete with Portman, et al, in the main category. She will win, but her fellow nominees are true supporting players, and by that measure, Jacki Weaver's sociopathic grandmother in “Animal Kingdom” would be the dark horse winner in any other year.

Should win: Jacki Weaver.

Will win: Hailee Steinfeld.

Brandy says: In the Coen brothers' readaptation of “True Grit,” newcomer Steinfeld, 14, did right by one of the most memorable heroines in American literature: Mattie Ross, an indomitable Arkansas farm girl who refuses to let societal niceties, a lawless frontier or her unpredictable partners deter her from seeking justice for her slain father. But her linchpin performance simply doesn't belong in the supporting category, and her nomination, along with her career breakthrough, will ultimately be the teen's reward. Instead, the academy should and will dole out some justice of its own, giving former Tulsan and longtime working actress Leo, who was nominated two years ago for her sublime lead turn in “Frozen River,” her due for playing a tough-as-nails blue-collar matriarch who isn't afraid to play favorites or demand unquestioned family loyalty in “The Fighter.”

Should and will win: Melissa Leo.

Best director

Gene says: It stands to reason that the person who helmed the best picture winner should win the best director prize, but reason seems to have little to do with the thought processes of the average academy voter. In a perfect world, David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Seven,” “Zodiak,” “Benjamin Button”) should take the statuette for the stylish visuals, taut pacing and superlative performances found in “The Social Network.” Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”) could pull an upset, however, for his majestic craftsmanship in “The King's Speech,” or Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”) could dance away with the trophy for his adventurous flair in “Black Swan.”

Should and will win: David Fincher.

George says: Conventionally speaking, best director is paired with best picture. When it doesn't work out, there is always great hue and cry over how the person at the helm of the greatest film of that year could not be given credit for bringing it to fruition, or vice versa. If “The Social Network” does not win best picture, the academy will split hairs and give best director to Fincher. Beyond Fincher, just take a look at the nominees — every one is a top-shelf indie master working at the peak of his powers. It could go to any of them, but Fincher has consistently broken ground since his rise in the 1990s, and “The Social Network” is his masterpiece.

Should and will win: David Fincher.

Brandy says: with best picture coming down to a close two-movie contest between “The Social Network” and “The King's Speech,” the academy will go against the conventional wisdom that the helmer of the top feature winner should get the best director Oscar. Rather, the academy will opt to spread the love a little, with “The King's Speech” receiving the top prize and “The Social Network” earning best director for Fincher. As consolation prizes go, it's an awfully nice one, and Fincher, who has not yet won an Oscar despite an impressive body of work including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Zodiac” and “Fight Club,” certainly deserves it. His canny pacing, intriguing visuals and storytelling savvy undoubtedly transformed the tale of Facebook's litigious beginnings from the standard courtroom potboiler it could have been into a compelling, zeitgeist-capturing saga with universal themes.

Should and will win: David Fincher.

Best original screenplay

Gene and Brandy say: Christopher Nolan, “Inception.”

George says: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, “The Fighter.”

Best adapted screenplay

Gene, George and Brandy say: Aaron Sorkin, “The Social Network.”

Best animated feature

Gene, George and Brandy say: “Toy Story 3.”

Best documentary

Gene and George say: “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Brandy says: “Inside Job.”


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