Feature: ‘Inception,’ ‘The King’s Speech’ Lead Final 2011 Oscar Nominee Predictions

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CHICAGO – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will finally announce their nominations for the Oscars tomorrow morning, January 25th, 2011. But why wait? Want to know the nominees now?

After weeks of dissection and discussion, the finalized HollywoodChicago.com Oscar predictions are here. Impress your friends, and tell them today what’s going to get nominated tomorrow.

All in all, Tuesday should be an interesting morning. Every major category has a surplus of nominees. Having done the prediction game for years, I can tell you that there are usually a few categories that are cut-and-dry with an obvious five choices. Such is not the case this year. Each category could produce a shock and will almost definitely produce a snub. Best Director has six of the most evenly-matched choices I’ve ever seen in this game, and the man (or men) left out of that category will likely be the number one story in terms of “who got screwed” on Tuesday morning. I’ll go through the majors category by category and then simply list the below-the-line categories for prediction’s sake.

Cumulatively, although I expect “The Social Network” to easily walk away with Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay when it comes to winners, it’s very unlikely that Fincher’s masterpiece will notch the most nominations tomorrow morning. There are six films that will surely lead the way in nods (and, hence, the dilemma in the category of Best Director that we’ll get to) — I’m predicting that “Inception,” thanks in large part to its technical brilliance, leads the way with 10 nominations, tied with the more actor-beloved “The King’s Speech.” followed by “Black Swan” and “The Social Network” with 9 nods a piece, and “True Grit” and “The Fighter” tied with 8. That’s six movies with 56 nominations and the clear “favorite six” of the year. For the record, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Toy Story 3” will notch 5, several tiers below Oscar’s beloved sextet.

Need more detail before you commit to your annual Oscar pool? Here’s the breakdown of the major categories.

Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin
Photo credit: Sony

“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”
“Winter’s Bone”

Locks: Aaron Sorkin’s “The Social Network” has been a lock to win this category since he wrote the opening scene, and there’s just no way it doesn’t get nominated (and no way it doesn’t win). “True Grit” feels like a lock as well as the Academy would like to recognize that remakes can be done artistically as well as just profitably. And if the Coens miss out on Best Director, there will be a stronger urge to nominate them somewhere else for their highest-grossing film to date.

Likely: The Academy has nominated Pixar here before and so I would be very surprised not to see “Toy Story 3.”

Contenders: The final two spots are interesting as there are three solid contenders to take them — “127 Hours,” “The Town,” “Winter’s Bone.” Just as the three films are fighting for spots in the Best Picture 10, one will miss out. Will it be the same one that missed out in Pic, making a 10-for-10 screenplay match with the big category? Somehow I doubt that. So, while I’m predicting “127 Hours” and “Winter’s Bone” here, I don’t envision a 10-for-10 match-up. More on that later…

Personal Plea: It would be great if “Rabbit Hole,” “The Ghost Writer,” and “Shutter Island” were at least in the conversation here. All three are better scripts than “127 Hours” or “True Grit.”

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan
Photo credit: WB

“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“The Kids Are All Right”
“The King’s Speech”

Locks: Aren’t they all? Seriously, this feels like the easiest category to nail down as five of the stronger Best Picture candidates are all eligible here with highly-acclaimed work. One might think that “Inception” could sit out as it could be viewed as more of a technical achievement, but it actually boasts the most precursor awards of this list. “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Kids Are All Right” — all locks as well. Now, what’s going to WIN here is a much more interesting debate and should be a fun one to watch.

Likely: OK, if one of these falls, it’s “The Fighter,” which I believe most Academy members view as an acting piece more than a writing one.

Contenders: If the Ward/Eklund family drama falters, the only potential upset I could see would be Mike Leigh’s “Another Year.” The Academy has nominated him for writing four times already and it seems like he would be a lock for this work in many lesser years.

Personal Plea: Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” is a stronger piece of work than a couple of the nominees here. It’s certainly more ambitious. And “Another Year” deserves nomination as well.

Melissa Leo
Melissa Leo
Photo credit: Paramount

Amy Adams, “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”
Mila Kunis, “Black Swan”
Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”
Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”

Locks: Both ladies from “The Fighter” can prepare their morning-of reaction statements now, if they haven’t done so already. If either of them fail to get nominated, someone didn’t count the votes correctly. And while I’ll never understand the widespread support for her performance, Helena Bonham Carter has racked up enough precursor nominations that she’s a statistical lock. Whatever.

Likely: Here’s where it gets interesting. I believe that Hailee Steinfeld is a very-likely nominee. But not here. I think the tide has finally turned to the point where enough Academy members will recognize that she is undeniably the lead character in “True Grit” and be nominated thusly. Leaving a spot open here for…

Contenders: That leaves two spots and three contenders — Mila Kunis, Lesley Manville, and Jacki Weaver. While Manville belongs here, I don’t sense the same willingness to go against a studio (Sony Pictures Classics) and demote a performance as I do to elevate one such as in Steinfeld’s case. So she misses out. If they had put her where she belonged from day one, Manville probably would have edged out Kunis or Weaver.

Personal Plea: Did no one else notice the subtle brilliance of Dianne Wiest in “Rabbit Hole”? Guess not. And, for the record, Barbara Hershey is better in “Black Swan” than Mila Kunis. As much as I like Kunis’ work, I would love to hear Hershey’s name instead on nomination morning.

Christian Bale
Christian Bale
Photo credit: Paramount

Christian Bale, “The Fighter”
Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network”
John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”
Jeremy Renner, “The Town”
Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”

Locks: Bale might be the biggest lock of the entire morning. If you don’t hear his name announced first, the next sound you’ll hear will be publicists screaming (and cinematographers cheering). Like Carter, Rush has enough precursor support to consider him a lock and, even though it’s unlikely, he’s the only person who could possibly take the trophy from Bale if the Academy gets swept up in “King’s” fever.

Likely: Some don’t agree, but Garfield feels like an unlikely candidate to get snubbed despite missing a few precursors. I’d be surprised if young Mr. Spider-Man doesn’t make the cut.

Contenders: Here we have arguably four actors for two spots — Matt Damon, John Hawkes, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo. Star power keeps Damon’s hopes alive, as does love for the film, but the lack of precursor support is pretty telling. So that leaves three that are so evenly matched in precursors that I can merely go with my gut. Renner still carries goodwill from starring in last year’s Best Picture winner, and I think the Academy will want to have one representative from the overall ensemble of “The Town.” So he’s in. That leaves Hawkes or Ruffalo. They’re both great, but I feel like “Winter’s Bone” is catching fire more right now than “The Kids Are All Right.” This is one of those categories where I would love to see the vote totals the next day. I bet sixth place is a handful of votes behind the cut.

Personal Plea: After Jeff Bridges finally won his Oscar last year, Sam Rockwell has officially taken over the title of the most underrated actor in Hollywood. This is the third year in a row that he will get screwed out of a nomination after “Snow Angels,” “Moon,” and now “Conviction.”

Move on to page two for actress, actor, director, and picture.

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