The nominations for the 84th Academy Awards will be announced a little after 8:30 a.m. EST tomorrow morning, Jan. 24. I'll probably tune in at 8 a.m. to ABC, which will broadcast the big show on Feb. 26, so feel free to watch and tweet along with me. In a year when a black-and-white, silent French film is someone considered the Best Picture front-runner, I'm not sure what qualifies as a "dark horse" any more, but I'll be rooting for some of the following unlikely nominees:
Best Supporting Actor - Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Nine years ago, Serkis earned enormous praise for his motion-capture performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and set off a debate over whether he was qualified for an Oscar nomination. History repeats with Serkis' turn as Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot, which presents a remarkable, affecting simulation of a chimpanzee that assumes human intelligence. Caesar emerged as arguably the most original and memorable role from the mainstream movies of 2011, and clearly Serkis throws his heart into the role. Of course, the film's animators can't be discounted in the creation of the character: if Caesar looked like Donkey Kong, Serkis' passions would be for naught. Maybe the Oscars needs a new category for this kind of thing:
Best Supporting Actress - Jodie Foster, Carnage: Anyone who saw The Beaver, co-starring and directed by Foster, may have assumed that the two-time Best Actress winner has no sense of humor.Carnage proves otherwise as Foster gives a hilariously intense performance as a politically correct mom who grows increasingly distraught at her fellow parents' cynicism. It doesn't help that Carnage director Roman Polanski remains a divisive figure.
Best Actor - Ralph Fiennes, Coriolanus: Fiennes seems to have become the kind of actor Hollywood takes for granted, even though he regularly gives home-run performances. Recent highlights include The Constant Gardener and The Duchess, not to mention terrific supporting turns in The Hurt Locker, In Bruges and as He Who Must Not Be Named. Directing himself in the title role of Coriolanus, Fiennes combines a terrifying gift at channeling rage with an impressive fluency with Shakespearean verse.
Best Actresses - Charlize Theron, Young Adult, and Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids: I won't be surprised if either of them make the final cut, although some Oscar-watchers think they'll be shut out. The Academy is notorious for failing to recognize comedy, which may be the case this year, even though Theron and Wiig's distinctive takes on women behaving badly proved far more memorable than, say, Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs. Theron suckling at a two-liter Diet Coke bottle or Wiig trashing her friend's Parisian-themed party alone deserve some kind of recognition. That Bridesmaids' Melissa McCarthy seems a safe bet for a Supporting Actress nod isn't much of a consolation.
Best Director - Lars Von Trier, Melancholia: I'm pretty ambivalent about some of Von Trier's work, and his habit of making ill-considered remarks about Hitler won't win him any favors. Despite the violence and horrible behavior in his films, Von Trier's more than just a provocateur, as he regularly brings out astonishing performances from his actors (notably Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia) and crafts haunting imagery, such as Melancholia's opening tableau of apocalyptic moments. You don't have to agree with some of his choices to recognize that Von Trier's pushing the art of cinema forward.
Best Picture: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: If the 84th Academy Awards was guaranteed to have 10 Best Picture nominees, like the past couple of years, maybe the eighth and final Harry Potter film would have more of a shot. Oscar-watchers don't seem to be taking it seriously, and for 2011's highest-grossing film (at $381 million), Deathly Hallows Part 2 seems to have left little impression. Nevertheless, it's a thrilling, exemplary supernatural action epic and the final, most lucrative chapter of a popular film franchise that really hit its stride after director Christopher Columbus left. Perhaps, after eight films over 10 years, everyone has a little Hogwarts fatigue.
I also hope The Muppets gets Best Picture and Best Screenplay nominations, but the comeback of Kermit & company will probably only get a Best Song nod for "Life's a Happy Song."
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