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Oscar nominee predictions 2011: Social anxiety

Oscar looks back, turns inward
By PETER KEOUGH  |  February 24, 2011

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SCREWBALLS: Look for actor Jesse Eisenberg and director David Fincher to score individual nominations for sure-bet Best Picture nominee The Social Network.

Last year's Oscar program had a celebratory feeling about it that's not always associated with the most watched ceremony in the world. As if to complement the country's first African-American president, the Academy presented its first female Best Director. As if to join in the expansive mood brought about by the change of administrations, the Academy enlarged its roster of Best Picture nominees from five to 10. And sharing in what seemed a new era of optimism, one eager to engage with the problems of the world, many of 2009's Best Picture nominees were films that confronted topical issues, from Kathryn Bigelow's Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, an account of heroism in the Iraq War, to her ex-spouse James Cameron's Avatar, a critique of US foreign policy scarcely veiled by its 3D sci-fi trappings. Hollywood agreed: yes, we can.

Well, so much for 2009. As we all know, 2010 was a different story, one reflected in many of the year's Oscar candidates. Frustrated and demoralized, Americans retreated into the past and into themselves, turning away from the real world and, in many cases, toward their computer screens. And that's where THE SOCIAL NETWORK found them.

A sure Best Picture and Best Director nominee, DAVID FINCHER's film will also earn a Best Actor nod for JESSE EISENBERG as Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg — not just because the eccentric genius is the biggest prick and most powerful visionary of the new media, but because he's also the anti–Jimmy Stewart in a latter-day version of a Frank Capra screwball comedy. Not only does The Social Network fulfill the Hollywood need to bash a rival mode of entertainment, it does so by updating one of its own trademark genres.

Such throwbacks to traditional formula distinguish many of the top films of the year. What can be more old school than a Western? And what filmmakers are more wise-ass and iconoclastic than the COEN BROTHERS? Nonetheless, their remake of TRUE GRIT is at least as respectful of the genre as was Henry Hathaway's 1969 adaptation of the Charles Portis novel. Moreover, JEFF BRIDGES's performance holds up against the one that earned John Wayne his only Oscar, and young HAILEE STEINFELD quietly ties the whole cast together. True Grit should rustle up Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress nominations.

Other generic blasts from the past include the period bio-pic and certain Best Picture nominee THE KING'S SPEECH, Tom Hooper's plug for the Royals — in this case the stuttering King George VI, played by likely Best Actor nominee COLIN FIRTH. The film should also earn Best Supporting Actor and Actress nods for GEOFFREY RUSH as George's speech therapist and HELENA BONHAM CARTER as George's wife. She's the best part of the movie; I can't remember the Queen Mother looking sexier.

For a lesbian twist on the old-fashioned family melodrama, there's Lisa Cholodenko's THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, a strong Best Picture candidate. ANNETTE BENING seems set to get a Best Actress nomination as the woman wearing the pants in the family, and MARK RUFFALO has a shot at Best Supporting Actor. As for Cholodenko, it seems that women are going to have to be satisfied with Bigelow's victory until, say, 2019.

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Related: Tom Hooper's film looks like an Oscar winner, Rocky Mountain low, Oscar predictions: Liberal gilt, More more >
  Topics: Features , Jeff Bridges, Christian Bale, 127 HOURS,  More more >
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