And this is where the Oscars officially become a popularity contest. They should really rename these categories “Best Performance by an Actor/Actress in a Leading Role Who Deserves an Award.” No, the “deserves a reward part” doesn’t necessarily mean for that performance, but for their career. That’s especially the case for Best Actor, because there are always at least five incredible performances every year that get exposure (more leading male roles in movies).
Even if you don’t agree with that, you have to agree that critics and Academy members and such all have a Groupthink mentality: When someone throws out a name as the best, everyone flocks to that name and piles all the accolades on it so that no one appears “wrong” and the decision begins to appear less arbitrary. That’s why the favorites this year are odds-on.
As I did with my Supporting Actor and Actress predictions, I’ve not only given you my prediction this year, but like that Entertainment Weekly does, I’m giving you the percent chance to win or the percent of votes for each nominee, in my opinion.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
- (55%) Natalie Portman – “Black Swan”
- (25%) Annette Bening – “The Kids Are All Right”
- (5%) Jennifer Lawrence - “Winter’s Bone”
- (10%) Nicole Kidman - ”Rabbit Hole”
- (5%) Michelle Williams – “Blue Valentine”
Prediction: Natalie Portman for “Black Swan”
The mix of nominees in the acting categories has been really nice and balanced this year and Best Actress continues the trend. With two veterans, two actresses in their prime and one up-and-comer, folks who tune in will find familiar faces and important less-household names.
At the same time, it doesn’t make the winner any less predictable. If you look at the films attached to the names on the list, I guarantee only 50 percent of movie-going Americans will say they’ve seen more than one film on this list and that one film would be “Black Swan.” None of the other movies were ever released on a wide scale. So, if exposure impacts Academy voting, then tip the scales about 80 percent in favor of Natalie Portman.
Let’s start with the least-exposed performances. Jennifer Lawrence is about as newcomer as they come and “Winter’s Bone” premiered at Sundance last year and made its theatrical run way before the time for Oscar talk. Her performance as a teenager forced to be head of her household with a fierce albeit naive determination to find her meth-cooking father is nothing short of Oscar material. Given the quiet, soft-spoken nature of the film, expect Lawrence to hit a dramatic home run at some point in her career — she’ll be back.
Michelle Williams’ name and profile is still growing in Hollywood. When “Brokeback Mountain” made its Oscar run and put Williams on the map, she got little of the credit. She then dipped back into more independent features. However, it’s beginning to seem as if “Blue Valentine” could’ve used more of a push as most people who see it are loving it despite the tragic love story nature.
Playing a grieving mother makes for Academy fodder, which might explain why Nicole Kidman is the only imprint “Rabbit Hole” made on the Oscars. Aaron Eckhart and Pulitzer-winning writer David Lindsay-Abaire were both left out. Kidman’s third nomination, it feels deserving, but the familiar domestic drama feel and mixed reviews kept “Rabbit Hole” out of the spotlight.
Earlier this year when “The Kids Are All Right” made a big splash as an indie, Annette Bening could’ve been considered a shoo-in. Nominated for three Oscars previously, she fits the bill of an actress coming at the right time and “deserving it.” That’s why she’s a scary underdog and I wouldn’t totally drop dead if she managed to win. As a slightly controlling and overly suspicious lesbian partner and mom, Bening created a sophisticated portrait of an otherwise irritating character.
But “Kids” stands out as more of an ensemble effort, whereas Natalie Portman’s role made “Black Swan” function. So many pieces of her role as perfection-aspiring Nina fit with Academy tendencies including body transformation. The role is one of a lifetime really and seems to be the perfect storm for Portman to win her first Oscar.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
- (50%) Colin Firth – “The King’s Speech”
- (25%)Jesse Eisenberg – “The Social Network”
- (12%) James Franco - “127 Hours”
- (8%) Jeff Bridges - ”True Grit”
- (5%) Javier Bardem – “Biutiful”
Prediction: Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech”
I have and always will refer to this category as a “Gentleman’s Club” and it looks like Jesse Eisenberg will get turned down at the door. Playing Mark Zuckerberg and portraying him in such a way that makes Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue and “it’s because you’re an asshole, Mark” jump off the page should constitute as the perfect storm, but enter Colin Firth. Firth, who was the best of the pack last year in my opinion, strolls in playing a dead monarch with a stammer. Talk about bad luck for Jesse. That’s the big turkey at the AMPAS Thanksgiving dinner right there; they gobble that stuff up.
More on that later. There are some other good things happening in this category. For one, James Franco scored his first nomination. He’s slowly growing into the next Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr., just a much younger version. Everyone wants him to play the lead in their upcoming blockbusters that mix leading man mettle with comedy. Franco has that great combination of intensity, charm and humor. Playing Aron Ralston let him combine all those talents as the fearless (yet as we learn, a bit stupid) hiker who is tested more than maybe any human on this planet ever has been. Considering the camera basically never leaves him, he has to be great and he was. I would put him right at the same level as our two main contenders to be honest.
Amusingly, if Jeff Bridges had been nominated for “True Grit” last year along with his nomination for “Crazy Heart,” I think he would’ve beaten his Oscar-winning self. His crack at John Wayne’s Oscar-winning role as marshal Rooster Cogburn perfectly captured the impulsive, sharp-shooting slob whose heart takes a big turn.
The Academy loves Javier Bardem, but I don’t think anyone outside of the critics of this world have seen “Biutiful.” He dominates the film from everything I read and I’ve no doubts that he deserves to be there. This won’t be the last time we talk about Bardem this way either. He’s simply a presence and gives a tour-de-force in all his work.
But there’s all kinds of historical precedent that would guarantee Firth this award. For one thing, in the last 10 years, Adrien Brody was the only actor under 35 to win this award. I don’t have the time to check, but Eisenberg would be by far one of the youngest at just 27. In the last five years, the winner has been about 50 years old. Firth is right there. Did I mention he played a dead monarch with a stammer?