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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

It’s Oscar Time Again

A closer look at some of the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards

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The Oscars have never been a reliable guide to cinematic greatness. After all, Citizen Kane lost for Best Picture in 1941 to How Green Was My Valley, a good movie but not one that made many Top-10 lists of all-time great films in the years to come. Still, the Academy Awards are Hollywood’s own benchmark for excellence, and many of the Academy’s voting members take the craft of filmmaking seriously. Some members, however, are lazy and barely watch any movies they didn’t have a hand in making. Those are the sort of people influenced by insider politics and elaborately staged hype campaigns.

The televised spectacle is infamously long-winded and usually dull, yet Oscar nominations and—more so—Oscar wins are bankable and help spur careers, box office receipts and rentals. The Best Picture, Actress and Supporting Actor nominations for Winter’s Bone will undoubtedly inspire at least some Netflix subscribers to find one of last year’s great and little-seen indie films.

Here’s a look at four of this year’s notable Oscar contenders:

Best Actor

My Pick: Jeff Bridges (True Grit)

Probable Winner: Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

I have nothing against Firth’s regal performance, but Bridges’ slightly larger-than-life U.S. Marshal stands taller in my moviegoing memory.

Best Actress

My Pick and Probable Winner: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Even if you had to avert your eyes once or twice, there is no denying the challenge of Portman’s role and her bravery in throwing herself deep into the madness.

Best Animated Feature

My Pick: The Illusionist

Probable Winner: Toy Story 3

Both films are great in terms of animation and screenwriting, but the chance of any film overtaking Toy Story 3 is less than the odds of being struck by a meteorite.

Best Director/Best Picture

My Pick: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

Probable Winner: David Fincher (The Social Network)

Black Swan was more artful, more provocative, more disturbing, and its themes are eternal, but the well-made Social Network is entirely in the moment.

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