UPDATE: Well the Oscars are over and we nailed it in all except two categories with our predictions. Check out the full list of Oscar Winners 2011.

This weekend movie fans will bear witness to the 83rd Academy Awards, and like in years past, the 2011 Oscar race is shaping up to be more a confirmation of what everybody already suspects, rather than a thrilling race between neck-and-neck films, actors, and directors who are all hoping to walk away basking in Oscar’s glory.

With films like Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, True Grit, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3, and even Iron Man 2 up for nominations in different categories, the 2011 Oscars ceremony will offer something for arthouse, mainstream, and fanboy cinephiles alike.

In this 2011 Oscars prediction post, we will examine the top categories at this year’s Academy Awards (read: the categories you Screen Rant readers care most about) and offer our predictions regarding who the Academy will pick as winners (like we need a crystal ball for that). At the risk of having my head torn off in the comments section below, I will then offer an opinion on which actors, films, or filmmakers I believe SHOULD win in each category, and why I feel that particular person(s) or film warrants the highest recognition that Hollywood has to offer.

We have a lot of categories to cover, so best get started.

For more information on the films nominated, be sure to check out our tag list at the bottom of the post for links to our movie archives.

2011 Oscar Predictions

Achievement in visual effects

  • “Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1″ Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
  • “Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
  • “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
  • “Iron Man 2″ Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Who WILL Win: Inception

Harry Potter has only gotten better in terms of its visual effects and Deathly Hallows Part 1 certainly upped the ante with aerial wizard duels, giant snakes, elves, wand sparks galore and even seven Daniel Radcliffes sharing the screen. Iron Man 2 was no slouch in the effects department either, giving us some truly great (if seldom) moments of superhero action. However, Inception‘s hallway fight was an instant classic, and the work Nolan put in to realize this world of dreams (within dreams, within dreams, within dreams) was awe-inspiring. As usual, I believe the Academy will reward Nolan for his technical prowess rather than his vision.

Who SHOULD Win: Inception

Anybody but Hereafter. In all seriousness, though, the Inception team deserves this win, followed closely by the Harry Potter team.

Best foreign language film of the year

  • “Biutiful” – Mexico
  • “Dogtooth” – Greece
  • “In a Better World” – Denmark
  • “Incendies” – Canada
  • “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” – Algeria

Who WILL Win: Outside the Law

This is always a tough category to call – I never seem to be able to gauge the Academy’s mindset when it comes to International films. The obvious choice would be Biutiful, but mostly because it’s the film that Americans are most familiar with. Dogtooth was a powerful film, but more shocking-powerful than moving-powerful – and the academy rarely rewards disturbing movies of that nature. In a Better World and Incendies are both films that explore human relationships in profound ways, but I’m going to go ahead and say that Outside the Law‘s mix of action, suspense, family and political drama will earn it the award – despite all the controversy over its historical inaccuracies.

Who SHOULD Win: Biutiful

I’m a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams), and I’m also a growing fan of Javier Bardem, so naturally I have a strong bias when it comes to Biutiful winning for Best Foreign Language Film. If I MUST be objective, I would say that Outside the Law is a worthy film for the win.

Best documentary feature

  • “Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
  • “Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
  • “Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • “Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
  • “Waste Land” (Arthouse Films), An Almega Projects Production, Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Who WILL Win: Restrepo

Not too sure on this one – it’s always hard to tell which documentary burns itself deepest in the Academy members’ minds. This year we have three films exploring the (supposed) unraveling of America on the military and economic fronts (Restrepo, Inside Job and Gasland) – while on the more uplifting side of things, we have two films exploring the nature and power of art (Exit through the Gift Shop and Waste Land). Depending on the mood of the Academy members, I’d say either Gift Shop or Restrepo will get the award.

Who SHOULD Win: Waiting For Superman

Waiting For Superman. OK, OK… it’s not nominated but it damn well should’ve been. Even considering the nominees we do have: The human story at the center of Restrepo is certainly moving, and Exit through the Gift Shop is a rare and precious gem of a documentary that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Charles Ferguson’s damning look at the pattern of corruption shared between government, the financial services sector and academia is the most eye-opening slice of real-life on this list. But still, the winner SHOULD have been Waiting For Superman and it’s a damned shame it wasn’t nominated.

Continue for Best Animated Feature, plus Adapted and Original Screenplays

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Best animated feature film of the year

  • “How to Train Your Dragon”
  • “The Illusionist”
  • “Toy Story 3″

Who WILL Win: Toy Story 3

Is there ever a time these days when Pixar DOESN’T win in this category? I’ll take a shot of tequila, wine and Tabasco sauce if the Academy doesn’t continue to dodge the bullet of giving an animated film Best Picture by giving Toy Story 3 this award. The film was a massive success critically and financially and the ending moved even the hardest people in the audience to tears. That’s pretty powerful movie magic being conjured by Pixar.

Who SHOULD Win: The Illusionist

While Toy Story 3 was moving for so many people, personally I’m beginning to worry that these Pixar films are getting to be a little bit formulaic. They make us laugh, they make us cry, they look gorgeous – the end. Judging on the basis of splendor, originality and wonder, I really think that The Illusionist deserves to walk away with the Best Animated Film statue – but that’s just me.

Adapted screenplay

  • “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
  • “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • “Toy Story 3″ Screenplay by Michael Arndt, Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
  • “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • “Winter’s Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Who WILL Win:  Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network

There’s a lot of good work nominated for this award, but I don’t think anyone is going to beat the electric sparks of Aaron Sorkin’s script for The Social Network. Sorkin took what many considered the height of boring stories – privileged Harvard kids fighting legal battles over a billion-dollar idea – and turned it into one of the most riveting movie experiences of the year. Oh, by the way, he did it pretty much exclusively through dialogue; you’ll find little-to-no actual action in The Social Network. Who knew that audiences could still be so responsive to two-plus hours of people talking?

Who SHOULD Win: Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network

127 Hours also turned a situation that would seem ill-suited for a movie (a dude trapped in one place for a long time) and transformed it into something much grander (a meditation on life and the human spirit). Toy Story 3 was an excellent homage to The Great Escape that also nailed the truth about our cycle of life and maturation while jerking tears from our eyes. Still, Sorkin definitely deserves this win – The Social Network was the portrait of our time in many ways, and had a structure that was truly unique and impressive. Plus, I don’t think any movie this year had better dialogue.

Original screenplay

  • “Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
  • “The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
  • “Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
  • “The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
  • “The King’s Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

Who WILL Win: David Seidler – The King’s Speech

The fan in me wants to say that Inception and Chris Nolan deserve some kind of recognition at this year’s Oscars, but I don’t know if I see it happening. Another Year was a real gem of a story, but I don’t think that film has mustered enough support for a win. The Fighter was wildly fresh in its approach to sports drama, but was based on real-life events, which dampers the whole “originality” aspect. No, I think this category is down to the unorthodox family drama of The Kids Are All Right and the unorthodox buddy picture that is The King’s Speech. It’s really a 50/50 between those two films, but I have a feeling King’s Speech will be on a roll – as in rolling over the competition.

Who SHOULD Win: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg – The Kids Are All Right

Look, Nolan deserves some kind of recognition from the Academy, but many would agree that Inception‘s script isn’t his strongest work (flat characters, plot holes). Maybe The Dark Knight Rises will be Nolan’s Award-winner? (Fingers crossed!) The Kids Are All Right, meanwhile, managed to take a pretty unusual approach to exploring family ties and  it didn’t pull any punches or shy away from the complex and sensitive material it was dealing with. Furthermore, never once did it devolve into a stereotypical or exploitative affair or become your standard formulaic piece of  melodrama (see: The King’s Speech). That’s a pretty precarious balancing act to pull off, let alone pull off well.  Give Cholodenko and Blumberg the Oscar, I say.

Continue to the Top Award Categories…

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Performance by an actress in a supporting role

  • Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
  • Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech”
  • Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
  • Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
  • Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Who WILL Win: Melissa Leo – The Fighter

This is one of the only categories at this year’s Oscars where the competition feels too close to call; the only category that I feel offers the excitement of the unknown. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo were phenomenal in The Fighter as two hardened-nosed working-class gals, while Jacki Weaver was a dragon-lady on a whole other (criminal) level in Animal Kingdom. Young Hailee Steinfeld stole much of the show from her two Oscar-winning co-stars in True Grit, and is definitely deserving of recognition (though her nomination in the Best Actress category would’ve been more appropriate). Carter was her usual quirky/cute self in King’s Speech – but then, she is top-notch. Right now, I’d say the smart money is on Melissa Leo to win.

Who SHOULD Win: Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom

Jacki Weaver’s performance as a mother torn between maternal bonds and criminal logic is probably one of the more fresh and original female roles to come along in years and the actress pulled it off so well you easily believed that she could be soft and tender in one moment and utterly ruthless in the next. As much as I love the ladies of The Fighter, I can’t help but think that Weaver deserves this win.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

  • Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
  • John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
  • Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech”

Who WILL Win: Christian Bale – The Fighter

Christian Bale stole the show in The Fighter, and that’s really saying something, considering how strong the supporting cast of that film was (three acting nominations in total). However, as over-the-hill boxer/crack addict Dicky Eklund, the complexity Bale brought to his role was overshadowed by the electricity and liveliness of his performance. The man deserves the Oscar.

Who SHOULD win: Christian Bale – The Fighter

Geoffrey Rush was great in The King’s Speech but he already has an Oscar under his belt. Jeremy Renner was electric in The Town and is certainly worthy of some award (but not Oscar). In the end, I wholeheartedly believe that Bale will and should win for The Fighter – he was that good.

Performance by an actress in a leading role

  • Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
  • Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone”
  • Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
  • Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

Who WILL Win: Natalie Portman – Black Swan

Expect to see a Twitter storm of Biblical proportions if anyone else besides Natalie Portman takes to the stage to accept the award for Best Actress this year. Fans of the petite actress were enamored by her tour de force performance in Darren Aronofsky’s film about the exacting cost of artistic perfection – from the physicality required of her to the slow-burning descent into madness, Portman certainly rose to the challenge of her character and Aronofsky’s vision. Black Swan is undoubtedly her best work to date.

Who SHOULD win: Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole

Truth be told, I have never been a big fan of Portman’s Black Swan performance. She didn’t actually do much of the ballet dancing pictured onscreen (digital face-overs get the thanks for that) and her dramatic performance was (to me) a rehash of her past performances (just watch our “Natalie Portman Cries Alot” mashup video to see what I mean). Personally, I would pick the fantastically layered and insightful roles of Nicole Kidman’s grieving mother in Rabbit Hole and Annette Bening’s overbearing father-mother in The Kids Are All Right as my top choices. Out of the two, I would have to give Kidman’s gut-wrenching (and strange) journey back from the abyss of grief the win – but I’m sure the Academy (and the public) is sick of showering her with kudos at this point.

Performance by an actor in a leading role

  • Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
  • Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
  • Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
  • Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
  • James Franco in “127 Hours”

Who WILL win: Colin Firth – The King’s Speech

I don’t think I even have to write much about this: If Colin Firth doesn’t walk away with the Oscar for his portrayal of a stuttering King George VI, it would be one of the biggest upsets of the night (second only to Natalie Portman not winning Best Actress). Though I want to believe that the Academy is capable of causing that kind of uproar, I’m not hedging my bets – Firth is pretty much a lock for this one.

Who SHOULD win: Javier Bardem – Biutiful

Jesse Eisenberg made Mark Zuckerberg more famous than Facebook ever did (we’ve certainly seen more of “Zuck” in the public eye since Social Network came out), and although James Franco continued to prove himself a talented actor in 127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s stylish direction was the real star of that film. Jeff Bridges was more caricature than character in True Grit, which is why it’s easy for me to say that despite Colin Firth’s undeniably awesome performance, it is the poignant and deeply-layered performance turned in by Javier Bardem in Biutiful that probably deserves the ultimate recognition. Now, if only more people had seen that film…

Continue for our thoughts on Best Director and Best Picture

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Achievement in directing

  • “Black Swan” – Darren Aronofsky
  • “The Fighter” – David O. Russell
  • “The King’s Speech” – Tom Hooper
  • “The Social Network” – David Fincher
  • “True Grit” – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Who WILL Win: David Fincher – The Social Network

While Best Director and Best Picture often go hand-in-hand, we could conceivably see a split in this year’s Oscar race. Even if The King’s Speech takes the top award of the night, David Fincher could very likely still walk away with Best Director for his impeccable crafting of The Social Network – a movie that would’ve been downright boring in another director’s hands. Then there’s the dark horse in the Best Director race: Darren Aronofsky. While votes are sure to be split over Black Swan’s qualifications for Best Picture, there is no debate that Aronofsky’s direction of the film was nothing short of masterful. Star Natalie Portman may not be the only one to go home with a golden statue.

Who SHOULD Win: Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan

If the award was for creative approach, I would give it to David O. Russell for turning sports drama into something wonderfully fun and original in The Fighter. If the award was for visual splendor and comprehensive storytelling, I would give it to the Coens in a heartbeat. As it stands though, I’m going to have to pick Fincher and Aronofsky as the two most worthy directors of the year. Black Swan (as I said in my review) is a technical masterpiece in terms of direction – a work that uses CGI effects sparingly and effectively, while still employing a whole bag’s worth of old-school film techniques and tricks in ways that enhance the movie exponentially. What Fincher achieved was very, very good – what Aronofsky achieved was great, in my opinion… which is why he is the man who deserves the Oscar.

Best motion picture of the year

  • “Black Swan”
  • “The Fighter”
  • “Inception”
  • “The Kids Are All Right”
  • “The King’s Speech”
  • “127 Hours”
  • “The Social Network”
  • “Toy Story 3″
  • “True Grit”
  • “Winter’s Bone”

Who WILL Win: The King’s Speech (or The Social Network)

At this point the Vegas odds heavily favor The King’s Speech walking away with the big award this year. As our own Ben Kendrick said in his review, this film was built to be Oscar bait – from the inspirational story and period setting, to the performances of the actors involved (Colin Firth especially), this film seemed to be gunning for Oscar from day 1 – and will likely get its little golden man.

However, while The King’s Speech won the top award at the BAFTAs this year, it was David Fincher’s Facebook movie The Social Network which won the night at The Golden Globes. If there is any film that can upset a grownup period piece like King’s Speech, it would almost certainly be the youthfully-spirited and hyper-stylistic Social Network. All that remains to be seen is which side of the generational gap gets their movie validated by the Academy.

Who SHOULD Win: The King’s Speech

This is a tough one to call. Many of the films nominated for Best Picture this year either nourished the soul (King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, 127 Hours) or dazzled the eye (Black Swan, Inception). And of course, there were those films which simply told a unique and engaging story featuring some memorable characters brought to life by great actors (The Fighter, Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right).

For my part, Best Picture is all about staying power; ten, twenty, years from now, we should be able to look back at a Best Picture winner and be just as happy with that choice as we were on Oscar night. I mean, how many people look back at the 1977 Oscars and still smile because Rocky won out over Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver? It’s the question of longevity that makes it hard for me to believe that The Social Network deserves the win as I’ve always felt the film has very limited long term appeal. Pixar and Chris Nolan are sure to make bigger and better films more worthy of Best Picture, and again, The Kids Are All Right feels more timely than timeless. True Grit and Winter’s Bone are simply great genre films, while 127 Hours and The Fighter were refreshing entries in worn-out sub-genres (survival drama and sports drama).

In the end, I think The King’s Speech has all the right ingredients to preserve it as the top choice for decades to come – you know, one of those “inspirational stories for the ages” that the Academy just loves to highlight. It’s a great film, so I won’t be mad if (when?) it walks away with the big Oscar of the night.

That’s it for our 2011 Oscar predictions – I’m sure there will be plenty to debate in the comment section, so let your thoughts be known!

If you plan to watch The Oscars this Sunday, then you should also join us here on Screen Rant for a live chat about the show. Oscar parties are always better when you have fellow movie buffs to share the experience with!

For more information on the films nominated, click any one of the tag links below.

The 83rd Academy Awards Ceremony airs this Sunday @ 8e/5p on ABC,

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