Academy Awards this coming weekend. By all accounts one of the easiest to predict. Maybe that’s why I have dragged my feet in posting predictions, because there’s not much new to add.

First, I’ll review my track record on guessing the nominees. I called 8 of 10. Hadn’t seen 127 hours then. Even if I had it wouldn’t have made my short list. Neither would True Grit. Both were good movies, I just didn’t think they were good enough. And that’s really the problem with most of the nominees in this expanded field.

Two of the four that are good enough, Black Swan and Inception, have the handicap of being occasionally puzzling visual feasts, when Oscar traditionally goes towards strong narrative. For both of these rewarding films, a second viewing brings more clarity and admiration. But not an Oscar. And for Christopher Nolan, director of Inception, not even a nomination. More on this in a bit.

The King’s Speech is a fabulous, and very accessible film. It was the first one my wife & I saw at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and the best. And everyone knew it then. Great performances, and a well paced, nuanced screenplay. But at no time do you say – what great visuals, or what inspired direction. It’s driven by script and acting.

The Social Network drew some praise for the acting, but everyone raved about the razor sharp dialogue. As they should. And the direction took a very talky movie, and made it flow with energy and vibrancy. And resonate with palpable irony.

I expect King’s Speech to take home the Oscar, but Social Network is equally deserving, and won’t feel to me like an upset. Nothing else here has a shot.

Top acting honors aren’t worth discussing in depth. Colin Firth. Not only was his performance perfect, but he’s hot off a well deserved nomination last year, and his patience will be rewarded. Natalie Portman. Young, but in the business for 15 years. And impressive most of that time. Outstanding in a difficult and nuanced role. There is some talk of Annette Bening as a contender, which I don’t get. I found her performance one-note, but hey, it worked for Mo’Nique last year.

Supporting acts have a little more leeway. Actress is the best race between the reserved depth of Helena Bonham Carter, and the brassy in-your-face Melissa Leo. I’d vote Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech, but Leo stole much of The Fighter and had a meatier role. Supporting actor comes down to Geoffrey Rush and Christan Bale. Rush was not his usual scenery chewing spectacle (the one nod I’d make to director Tom Hooper), and balanced Firth well. Christian Bale is the likely winner as the crack-addled brother in The Fighter, who all but made Mark Wahlberg disappear from the screen. With Bale and Leo stealing all their scenes, I felt the focus of the movie suffered, and never really centred on Wahlberg. Maybe it was his fault for not stepping up, but Bale & Leo didn’t compensate either, to make their roles enrich the movie. Bonham Carter and Rush reined it in, and it’s one of the reasons The King’s Speech worked so well.

Screenplays are a slam dunk – one Oscar each for King’s Speech and Social Network, luckily in differing categories.

Direction is where I begin to despair. I believe Tom Hooper will take it for King’s Speech, the most workmanlike directorial effort nominated. And if he does win, it will be because he managed the performances harmoniously. And maybe that should be enough. Every other director had bigger challenges though, and added a visual and sensory stamp to their proceedings.

But where is Christopher Nolan? Without him, there is no Inception – which was built on its unique visual and storytelling style. Even if you didn’t believe it was the best picture, it was the most balls-out direction. As confusing a tale as possible, huge risks, and a surprising hit which connected with the public. Ah well, if that’s all there is to rant about this year… and I sincerely hope it is. At least we won’t have Forrest Gump beating Pulp Fiction and Shawshank redeption, two of the most revered movies of their era. Or Rocky beating out Taxi Driver and Network…. Or….

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