Off the Carpet: We won't get another hero

Posted by · 10:44 am · February 20th, 2012

Ballots are due tomorrow. The great settling has occurred. And now is the time of year when people bored with the proceedings scratch and claw for an alternative.

There isn’t one. Despite a grand showing for “The Descendants” in the final stretch, it’s not the one to pull the carpet out from under “The Artist.” Despite “The Help” having a considerable amount of support throughout the Academy, it’s not the one. And somehow, “Hugo” isn’t the one, either, despite considerable spending in phase two (though the two nomination leaders spent quite a bit separately). There is no savior.

In a column today, Sasha Stone tries to make the case that more time would have mattered. It wouldn’t have. If anything, a number of members are still (believe it or not) DISCOVERING “The Artist.” When Stone writes that “no one seems to want ‘The Artist’ to win,'” she is, I think, responding to the echo-chamber that is movie punditry.

But then, there is sound advice in my colleague Anne Thompson’s warning in Friday’s podcast that there is a temptation to throw your hands up and expect the likelihoods. You have to keep your eyes peeled for upset potential, but upsets honestly look to be few (if any) and far between this year.

Take Best Adapted Screenplay, for instance, which was showcased at both the USC Scripter Awards and the WGA Awards over the weekend. Both prizes went to “The Descendants.” The editors, meanwhile, opted for the film at their show, too. And yet people still think “Moneyball” has a shot here? (And the reality is, it’s probably “Hugo” that’s coming in second.)

Take Best Actor, which was a conversation dominated by George Clooney for so long that some don’t want to give in to the inevitability of Jean Dujardin. Yet this ignores actorly support here and abroad, as he won both the SAG and the BAFTA. Only two people have ever lost the Oscar after grabbing both of those prizes: Daniel Day-Lewis for “Gangs of New York” and Russell Crowe for “A Beautiful Mind.” How did that happen? A last minute rush of support for “The Pianist” and Crowe threw a well-publicized hissy fit backstage at the BAFTAs. But as I said, no saviors this year.

How about Best Actress? This has been Viola Davis’s to lose, I’d wager, since the start of the season. Even when Meryl Streep and her performance in the dreadful “The Iron Lady” came around, as great as she was, it was clear that the season was leaning away from her. And so it did. But some inflated phase two pitching by The Weinstein Company and a BAFTA win has people thinking Streep could pull it off. She won’t.

Best Supporting Actor? Here, I think, there is potential for an upset that I can understand. Since the nominations were announced I’ve been noting Max von Sydow as a legitimate threat. He has a lot of goodwill, came around a few weeks back for press while frontrunner Christopher Plummer eased off the gas, etc. It could happen. But it’s all about momentum, and since Plummer hasn’t thrown a phone at anyone or come out with a movie called “Norbit,” his momentum should be enough to carry him across.

Additionally, I think there is a real possibility for Woody Allen to double up on his WGA win, despite the ineligibility of “The Artist” there, and grab another Oscar. But would I be surprised if voters sleepwalked all the way to the silent Best Picture frontrunner? Ha.

The only major field that everyone agrees is sewn up is Best Supporting Actress, which has Octavia Spencer’s name all over it. (Sorry, Jessica.)

The craft categories have been the unsure areas all month, however. That’s where the real excitement is, for those who pay attention to film awards beyond the headline-grabbing names. Best Art Direction looks like it’s all “Hugo”‘s, but it’s a battle between that and “The Artist” in a couple of categories, from Best Costume Design to Best Film Editing, while Best Cinematography is so not locked in for “The Tree of Life.” The sound categories feel like they could fall a couple of different ways between “Hugo” and “War Horse,” while what was once considered the gimme prize of the year, Best Visual Effects for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” somehow seems in doubt now.

So that’s where I’ll be looking for a little spice on Sunday night. The other stuff? Settled. And some of us have already moved on.

With just under a week to go, the Contenders section currently reflects our final-ish predictions. Mine won’t “officially” be finalized until Friday, when Anne and I offer up our last guesses on the podcast and I supply a separate post announcing them. I’m currently struggling with Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Documentary Feature. But for now, this is where Guy and I are leaning throughout.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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