Pete Hammond

Has The King’s Speech, fresh off that Producers Guild win and now leading with 12 Oscar nominations, just gone to the front of the class? My guess is this one could be a squeaker. Presumed Academy Awards co-frontrunner and critics favorite The Social Network trailed with only 8 nominations but they were the right ones: an Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Best Picture winner might expect to have Cinematography and Editing and Sound Mixing and Music plus acting, writing, and directing. And The Fighter also is still in there strongly in key categories (7 noms overall) as well as film editing, an important one since as all pundits know it’s difficult to win Best Picture without at least also gaining an editing nod. The last movie to do that was Ordinary People some 30 years ago. That’s bad news for Best Pic nominees True Grit, which other than its editing snub did spectacularly well with 10 nominations, and most surprisingly Inception which, despite 8 other nominations, also sported an even bigger snub in addition to no editing honor with director Christopher Nolan again being passed over on the Directors honor roll.

It’s déjà vu for Chris who was nominated for a DGA award for The Dark Knight two years ago but found himself left out in the cold by Oscar not only for Director but also Screenplay and Picture. At least Nolan received the latter two nominations today. But with the popularity and critical acclaim he received for Inception, it is clear that the AMPAS directors branch (which number only 367 as opposed to the DGA membership of 14,000-plus) has not yet felt a need to welcome Hollywood’s current wonder boy into their exclusive club. The directorial snub means loooooong odds for a Best Pic Inception upset, if that’s what Warners Bros is hoping for. No film has won Best Pic without at least a directing nomination since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989 and, before that, Grand Hotel in 1931-1932. Indeed, one of the main reasons that the Academy increased the five Best Picture nominees to 10 was because of the membership’s 2008 Dark Knight snub. Good thing, too, for Inception since it now appears there was a strong likelihood it might have suffered a similar fate with only 5 contenders.

As for True Grit’s Coen Brothers, they now join only Warren Beatty, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Jackson, and Oliver Stone in being nominated for Directing, Writing, and Best Picture for two different films with the first being their Oscar winner No Country For Old Men. Stanley Kubrick has them all beat having done it 3 times ( Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon but unlike those above not winning for any of them).  The editing snub  might be chalked up to the film editors branch being tired of the Coens editing their own films under a pseudonym, Roderick Jaynes (although they had two previous editing noms for Fargo and No Country).  They were also left off the list of the American Cinema Editors guild earlier this month.  Speaking of Grit, its other producer , Scott Rudin became only the third individual producer (he is a producer of Social Network)  to gain two Best Picture nods in the same year. Coppola and Fred Roos pulled it off in 1974 with The Godfather Part II and The Conversation. Three films on which Rudin served as a producer (The Way Back with a makeup nod is the other) earned a total of 19 nominations. He is an Oscar winner for No Country For Old Men.

This year Oscar could also mean a real boost at the box office, something Academy president Tom Sherak was especially happy about  when I caught up with him after he announced the noms.  He points out   Best Picture nominees Black Swan (a smaller than expected 5 noms overall), The Fighter , The King’s Speech and True Grit are still in their ticket-selling prime making this Oscar season potentially one of the most profitable for contenders. June and July releases Toy Story 3 (already the year’s biggest grosser and the third animated film to get a Best Pic nod), the indie Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right and Inception might all see upticks on DVD as well as October release,  The Social Network which just hit DVD this month.

Based on the way the season has been going, the Academy offered up no huge shockers this morning. But Javier Bardem’s Best Actor nod for Biutiful may have surprised some since he was left off SAG’s list as well as just about every other precursor award except BAFTA last week. A series of screenings well-attended by voting Academy actors branch members could have helped him gain the spot. Get Low’s Robert Duvall and The Fighter’s Mark Wahlberg had both campaigned fairly heavily, particularly on the Q&A circuit but were overlooked in the category which looks to be Colin Firth’s to lose for King’s Speech. Wahlberg did manage a nod as one of the producers of his film. If True Grit’s Jeff Bridges pulls off an upset he would become the first actor to win playing the same role in a remake that won its original star an Oscar. John Wayne’s take on Rooster Cogburn triumphed in the 1969 version. He would also become only the third  to pull off back to back Best Actor wins after Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks.

Some of the bigger surprises on the list  were in categories like documentary feature where Paramount’s much talked about and rewarded education doc, Waiting For ‘Superman’ was passed over for a nomination. Many pundits thought it was a sure thing to win but I had heard some grumbling about its complete authenticity by some in the Documentary branch — and they are the ones doing the voting.

In the foreign film category where Oscar voters are sometimes deemed out of touch with international tastes, the surprise nomination of Greece’s edgier than edgy Dogtooth will have some who served on the larger foreign language committee scratching their heads. I talked to a few who hated it. Though the Academy won’t confirm it, I understand it was Chair Mark Johnson’s Exec Committee which added it (and two others) to the mix of the big committee’s six finalists last week. The other nominees from Canada (Incendies), Denmark (In A Better World), Algeria (Outside The Law), and Mexico (Biutiful) were all among the more buzzed titles.

Diane Warren’s Golden Globe winning song, “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me”, written for Cher in Burlesque, came up empty, too. Many thought that was a sure winner, but the nomination has to come first. There were only four nominated songs on the list, a fact that indicates the music branch didn’t like a lot of the contenders since overall scores didn’t trigger the usual five nominees. The songs weren’t even performed on the Oscars last year, and this morning Oscarcast producers Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen told me they will now decide whether this year’s lineup will meet a similar fate. If they are sung, it will likely be in a medley format across one segment of the show. Two people who will be singing for sure, I am told, are Oscarcast hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Franco pulled off that rare feat of being an Oscar host who is also a nominee. Paul Hogan was the last to do it when he was up for a Screenplay nod for Crocodile Dundee in 1986.

Once again the guilds proved to be the best indicators of where the Academy might go. Four of the 5 Directors Guild nominees matched Oscar’s directing lineup. (The Coens were swapped in for Nolan). Despite the fact that several films were ruled ineligible, the Writers Guild still matched the Academy in 6 of 10 screenplay nominees. And SAG, which had 19 out of 20 last year, fell to 17 out of 20 matches this time with Biutiful‘s Javier Bardem, Blue Valentine’s Michelle Williams, and Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver gaining Oscar nods over SAG’s choices of Conviction‘s Hilary Swank, Get Low‘s Robert Duvall and Black Swan’s Mila Kunis. And the Producers Guild matched Oscar with 9 out of 10 contenders for Best Picture, with only Winter’s Bone currying more favor with the Acad than PGA pick of The Town.

Winter’s Bone’s distributor Roadside Attractions, a newly aggressive Oscar player, did particularly well considering the size of the small company. It nabbed four major nods for Winter’s Bone including Picture, Actress for Jennifer Lawrence, Supporting Actor for John Hawkes, and Adapted Screenplay. And it also scored two big gets for Biutiful, including Foreign Language Film and Javier Bardem as Best Actor on a film that no other American distributor would grab until Roadside finally rescued it months after its successful Cannes debut.

Among other distributors, Paramount had 21 nominations, Sony Pictures 17, and Walt Disney and The Weinstein Company each with 13. TWC did particularly well, so Harvey is back in the Oscar game big-time this year. The success both he and Rudin had this year makes their rivalry especially juicy fodder as we go into the final stretch.

A snap analysis sees Best Picture still wide open with The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and The Fighter having strong followings with a tight race expected. Each seems to have passionate supporters  and, with the preferential ballot the Academy uses, any outcome is possible, even a possible spoiler coming from behind.

For Best Actor, Colin Firth is far out front right now. Best Actress could be closer than anyone thought: with Black Swan’s youthful Natalie Portman and The Kids Are All Right’s veteran Annette Bening as contenders  and both with a few precursor victories under their belts. Supporting Actor  frontrunner is The Fighter’s Christian Bale at this point. But if The King’s Speech continues surging, this could be good for Geoffrey Rush to run up on the outside. The Supporting Actress contest might be heading towards The Fighter’s Melissa Leo, but she was passed over in the BAFTA nods last week in favor of co-star Amy Adams who is also Oscar-nominated. True Grit’s 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld might be one to watch, especially since she is essentially the lead of that film and dominates like no other supporting actress contender this year. All three actresses are in a Paramount movie, so this could be a fierce battle.

For Director, The Social Network’s David Fincher is the early favorite unless that The King’s Speech wind gets behind Tom Hooper’s back.  Usually the winner of Best Picture also takes Best Director, but this year could be a split. Saturday’s DGA awards might give a better clue where this one is going.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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