Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 02-21-11

Natalie Portman on the red carpet at The 17th Annual SAG Awards

Natalie Portman on the red carpet at The 17th Annual SAG Awards

Christian Bale and the real Dicky Eklund at The 17th Annual SAG Awards

Christian Bale and the real Dicky Eklund at The 17th Annual SAG Awards

Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush at The 17th Annual SAG Awards

Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush at The 17th Annual SAG Awards

Oscar outlook: Hollywood prognOSCARcators are having a tough time reading the tea leaves as the race blessedly winds down.

After convincing themselves early in the season that “The Social Network” couldn’t possibly lose with all those critical kudos to its credit, they did an abrupt late season turnaround to swear allegiance to “The King’s Speech” after its victories with the guilds (Producers, Directors, Actors) and with BAFTA voters.

Now with just one more week to get through before Oscar Night dawns, nobody really knows what to think.

There may be 10 Best Picture nominees, but there certainly aren’t 10 films that could win Best Picture. In fact, there aren’t five serious contenders for the Academy’s crown.

Most people can’t even name all 10 Best Picture nominees. To be honest, I was able to do so only after thinking hard and coming this close to looking it up. The only way to name a few of the contenders was to say to myself, “What else could Academy members have possibly been able to nominate with a straight face?”

I’m not going to say which titles those were, but here’s the (alphabetical) list. They jump off the page and you’ll know who they are without any help from me:

  1. “Black Swan”
  2. “The Fighter”
  3. “Inception”
  4. “The Kids Are All Right”
  5. “The King’s Speech”
  6. “127 Hours”
  7. “The Social Network”
  8. “Toy Story 3”
  9. “True Grit”
  10. “Winter’s Bone”

A traditional Hollywood handicapper would look at this list and the first thing he or she would ask is, “Which of these titles are also Oscar nominees for both best directing and best film editing?”

Answering that question shrinks our (alphabetical) list to four movies with a real possibility of winning Best Picture:

  1. “Black Swan”
  2. “The Fighter”
  3. “The King’s Speech”
  4. “The Social Network”

Yes, surprises are always possible and so are miracles, but I’m not going to bet my Oscar Pool money on surprises or miracles and you shouldn’t either.

So which of our four real possibilities is the most likely winner? Based on the voting to date, our (alphabetical) list shrinks to two titles:

  1. “The King’s Speech”
  2. “The Social Network”

Now which of these films you put your money on depends on what you think about Academy members.

If you think they’re inclined not to follow the critical crowd, then it’s “King’s.”

If you think they’re a graying group that couldn’t figure out how to befriend someone on Facebook to save their lives, then it’s “King’s.”

If you think they want to send a message that they’re really more plugged in to the Internet world than we might expect, then it’s “Social.”

If you think they’d like to prove they’re still capable of thinking young, then it’s “Social.”

If you think they don’t care about sending any kind of message and it’s just a matter of which film they feel is the year’s best, then it could be “King’s” or “Social.” Both are beautifully made movies that I liked a lot and either one would reflect well on the Academy as Best Picture winner.

But if you have to choose between these two titles — and wading in the Oscar Pool means you do — I can only tell you that I think it’s going to be “King’s.” It fits better to my way of thinking with the Academy voter’s profile. It’s a more traditional older appeal biographical drama about a heroic historical figure and it’s resonated best with the guilds, many of whose members are also Academy voters. In contrast, the critics who applauded “Social” can’t cast Oscar votes.

In particular, it’s significant that the Screen Actors Guild gave “King’s” its Best Ensemble Cast award. Actors make up the Academy’s largest voting branch and “Social” did not do well with SAG. “King’s” Colin Firth won Best Male Actor (beating “Social’s” Jesse Eisenberg among others). “Black Swan’s” Natalie Portman won best Female Actor (“Social” had no lead female actor role).

In the supporting male/female actor races, however, SAG shifted allegiance from “King’s” nominees Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter to “The Fighter’s” Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. But there were no “Social” nominees in either of SAG’s supporting categories.

If we anticipate support for “King’s” from the Academy’s producing, directing and acting branches, it seems that the safer bet for Best Picture (where everybody votes) is “King’s.”

Moreover, with the Academy’s preferential voting system — however many times people try to explain how it works I’m still not sure I really understand it and, frankly, I don’t think even those who explain it really understand it — it appears that the broader a film’s support the more likely it is to be a strong top choice and, therefore, the more likely it is to win. I think.

In any event, it’s been a really long and unexciting Oscar race. By now, we’ve seen the same winners accepting awards all over the place for so many weeks that their Oscar victories seem all but inevitable.

The safe bets are:

  1. Actor: Colin Firth.
  2. Actress: Natalie Portman.
  3. Original Screenplay: David Seidler (“King’s”)
  4. Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (“Social”)

The debatable bets are:

  1. Director: It’s probably going to be DGA winner Tom Hooper because only six times since 1948 has the DGA winner not also won the best directing Oscar. But if Academy voters have the same guilt feelings their BAFTA cousins apparently had and decide to spread things around a bit, “Social’s” David Fincher could pull an upset.
  2. Supporting Actor: Probably SAG winner Christian Bale, but Geoffrey Rush could prevail if Academy voters aren’t feeling guilty and go along with a sweep for “King’s.”
  3. Supporting Actress: Same possibility. Instead of SAG winner Melissa Leo, it could be Helena Bonham Carter. Some observers were critical of Leo for personally taking out “for consideration” ads. Other observers were critical of Carter for wearing mismatched shoes at the Globes — or was it at SAG or was it at the BAFTAs? You know, it all becomes one huge blur as week after week of the Unending Oscar Race goes on. In the end, no one remembers who did or said what to whom where. And no one really cares after a while.
  4. Animated Feature: Yes, it will be “Toy Story 3” and, no, it won’t stun everyone by winning Best Picture no matter how much Disney would like that.
  5. Film Editing: The American Cinema Editors (ACE) just voted “Social” its award so you can expect a film editing Oscar win for it, as well. And that makes sense since “Social” with its multiple timeline story is a more film editing driven picture than the more linear “King’s.”

You’re on your own when it comes to things like makeup, shorts, foreign language film, documentary, sound and music. If I really thought I had some great insights about those races, I’d help you out, but frankly you’ll do better flipping a coin.

Bottom line: It’s not over till it’s over. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be glad when it’s over.