If you really think about it - and you don't have to think about it - it makes perfect sense that both "Hugo" and "The Artist" ended up being the two most nominated movies of the year.
On a visual scale, the two films are miles apart. "The Artist," which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, is a black-and-white silent movie - or, at least, an almost-silent movie - that takes place in the 1920s and looks like it could have been shot back then too. By contrast, "Hugo" - the most nominated movie with 11 noms - is a gorgeous visual masterpiece that contains the best 3D effects in the history of the medium (yes, even better than "Avatar" - but more on that later).
But if you strip away all the bells and whistles, the two films actually share a common theme: both are love letters to the early days of cinema. "The Artist" tells the story of a silent matinee idol who fades into oblivion when the "talkies" take over, while his protégé embraces the new format and becomes a huge star. In "Hugo," a young orphan who lives in a Paris train station befriends a local merchant who turns out to be a filmmaking pioneer that time forgot.
When the Oscar winners are announced in Hollywood on February 26, it's a foregone conclusion that one of these movies will be showered with more praise than the other. But does that deserve to be the case? How will the other nominees fare? And how should they fare? What about other films that, in their own way, are also old-fashioned tributes to movies the way they used to be? Will it be a clean sweep, or will Academy voters spread the love? Read on, fellow movie lovers, and let's find out...
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
The Nominees: Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist"); Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig ("Bridesmaids"); J.C. Chandor ("Margin Call"); Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"); Asghar Farhadi ("A Separation")
The Lowdown: While "Bridesmaids" has often been referred to as "The Hangover" for women, its Oscar-nominated screenplay proved that it was a much smarter and deeper film by comparison. "Margin Call" was a gripping fly-on-the-wall account of the first 12 hours of the economic collapse, and "A Separation" was a mesmerizing depiction of the dissolution of an Iranian marriage (which makes it a lock to win Best Foreign Film). But in terms of being "original," nothing defined that term more than "The Artist." The movie looks like it was stashed away in a time capsule for almost 90 years, but the screenplay had a 21st Century sensibility that made it clever, delightful, rousing and unforgettable. And then there's Woody Allen, whose 45th feature, "Midnight in Paris," was widely hailed as being a return to form for the prolific filmmaker. Not only is it the biggest movie of his career by far (grossing over $150 million worldwide), but it also won the Best Original Screenplay award from the Writer's Guild of America.
Should Win: "The Artist"
Will Win: "Midnight in Paris"
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
The Nominees: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash ("The Descendants"); John Logan ("Hugo"); George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon ("The Ides of March"); Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin ("Moneyball"); Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy")
The Lowdown: "The Ides of March" was extremely well-written, but the film as a whole didn't leave a lasting impression after the credits rolled. "Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy" was complex, but the screenplay may have been a little too smart for its own good. "Hugo" was more of a visual triumph, so that leaves "The Descendants" and "Moneyball." While "Moneyball" hit a home run by taking a detailed book about statistics and turning it into an entertaining crowd-pleaser about beating the odds, "The Descendants" was a more profound, powerful and poignant story that was awarded Best Adapted Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America. And with a certain black-and-white film all but certain to win the bigger prizes, the Academy could honor Alexander Payne (already an Adapted Screenplay Oscar-winner for 2004's "Sideways") with a win here.
Should Win : "Moneyball"
Will Win: "The Descendants"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS :
The Nominees: Berenice Bejo ("The Artist"); Jessica Chastain ("The Help); Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids"); Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs"); Octavia Spencer ("The Help")
The Lowdown : Of all the major categories, two of them are locks. This is one of them. Octavia Spencer towers over the competition here with a scene-stealing turn in a movie that was bursting at the seams with stellar performances. And since she already won every other major award so far this season, expect the Oscars to follow suit.
Should Win: Octavia Spencer ("The Help")
Will Win: Octavia Spencer ("The Help")
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
The Nominees: Kenneth Branagh ("My Week with Marilyn"); Jonah Hill ("Moneyball"); Nick Nolte ("Warrior"); Christopher Plummer ("Beginners"); Max von Sydow ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close")
The Lowdown: Behold the second lock of the major categories. In this case, it falls to 82-year-old Christopher Plummer for both his intimate performance in "Beginners" and a storied career for which he never before won a competitive Oscar. The same could be said for Max von Sydow (who's 3 months older than Plummer, making him this year's oldest nominee), but "Beginners" is a more critically-praised film than "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," and like Octavia Spencer, Plummer's been collecting awards for "Beginners" since, well, the "beginning" of kudos season.
Should Win: Christopher Plummer ("Beginners")
Will Win: Christopher Plummer ("Beginners")
The Nominees: Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs"); Viola Davis ("The Help"); Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"); Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady"); Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn")
The Lowdown: Though the predicted winner here may seem like the obvious choice based on how many awards she's gotten so far this season, the Best Actress category could turn out to be an upset - albeit one in favor of the nominee who actually deserves to win. For Rooney Mara, the 26-year-old rising star of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the nomination is the prize - especially given the competition she faces here. And though 6-time nominee Glenn Close is long overdue for a statue - and a win here would be the ultimate payoff for her efforts to bring her 30-year passion project to the big screen - her performance in "Albert Nobbs" (along with that of her nominated co-star Janet McTeer) was the most praiseworthy aspect of the movie. Viola Davis will most likely win for being the emotional anchor of "The Help," even though 17-time nominee (and 2-time winner) Meryl Streep won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for playing controversial British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." But if the votes are split between them, Michelle Williams could go down the middle to nab the big prize. At least in this case, an upset here would be well-deserved for Williams, who gave the performance of a lifetime for her complex, sexy, confident, conflicted and vulnerable portrayal of screen icon Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn."
Should Win: Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn")
Will Win: Viola Davis ("The Help")
The Nominees: Demian Bichir ("A Better Life"); George Clooney ("The Descendants"); Jean Dujardin ("The Artist"); Gary Oldman ("Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy"); Brad Pitt ("Moneyball")
The Lowdown: Despite making less than $2 million at the box office, "A Better Life" still resonated with enough Academy voters to snag a nomination for Demian Bichir. But as with Supporting Actress nominee Rooney Mara, the nomination is the prize. Gary Oldman scored his first nomination, which is remarkable, given his storied body of work. And Brad Pitt gave a superb performance as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane in "Moneyball." For a few weeks, it looked like George Clooney - a prior Supporting Actor Oscar-winner for 2005's "Syrianna" - was the frontrunner for his vulnerable turn in "The Descendants," but when Jean Dujardin pulled an upset at the SAG Awards for winning Best Actor for "The Artist," this category turned into a horserace. There's no question that Dujardin was outstanding, but Clooney topped his great turns in 2007's "Michael Clayton" and 2009's "Up in the Air" with his deepest performance yet in "The Descendants."
Should Win: George Clooney ("The Descendants")
Will Win: George Clooney ("The Descendants")
The Nominees: Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist"); Alexander Payne ("The Descendants"); Martin Scorsese ("Hugo"); Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"); Terrence Malick ("The Tree of Life")
The Lowdown: Given all the awards "The Artist" has already collected since the season started in early December, Michel Hazanavicius might seem like a lock to win Best Director. But if anyone has a real shot at an upset here, it's Martin Scorsese. Though he won his first long-overdue Oscar for Best Director just five years ago for "The Departed," Scorsese's accomplishments with "Hugo" cannot be understated. It's his first family film, albeit a very mature family film that's bound to stand the test of time and grow in stature over the years. And for a film that marks his first foray into 3D, "Hugo" manages to top the likes of even "Avatar" to set a new standard for the medium. That's because unlike other 3D films, where the process loses its effect (and its appeal) as the movie progresses, the 3D in "Hugo" sustains itself throughout the duration of its running time. And since the subject matter regarding film history is bound to resonate strongly with Academy voters, they might decide to spread the wealth between "Hugo" for Best Director and "The Artist" for Best Picture.
Should Win: Martin Scorsese ("Hugo")
Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist")
The Nominees: "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life," "War Horse"
The Lowdown: With its new voting process representing something of a sliding scale, the Academy chose nine films for Best Picture for the first time in its history. And for the first time since "Wings" won the very first Academy Award for Best Picture back in 1929, the Oscars will come full circle by honoring a black-and-white silent film with the biggest prize of them all. Simply put, no other film this year was quite like the "Artist" - not just on a visual scale (which is obvious), but on an emotional level for being so incredibly clever, smart, funny, irresistible, heartbreaking and delightful. It stirred emotion like no other film could, and it represented everything that a movie should be.
Should Win: "The Artist"
Will Win: "The Artist"
-- Scott Mantz
Copyright 2012 by NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.