Oscar gold shines again this Sunday as Hollywood celebrates its best of 2010

by Mark Burger

Anne Hathaway and James Franco are hosting, and the latter is also nominated for best actor, for his performance in 127 Hours.

Ten films scored a best picture nomination, but only one can go home with the crown… and, indeed, this year may be a year of the crown. The King’s Speech set the pace with 12 nominations and, indeed, this may well be the year when the Academy Awards says “Rule Britannia!” The show will go on, and it will go on… and on, and on… and it won’t matter, because global ratings will likely be immense.

It’s one of the most watched programs of the entire year.

After all, it’s the 83rd Academy Awards, and even though it sometimes seems as if I’ve sat through all 83 of them, I’ll more than likely be following the parade and the procession on ABC this Sunday night.

Once upon a time, I used to host Oscar parties. The biggest bash of them all was more than 20 years ago, when I was in college. That was the year Mississippi Burning earned seven nominations.

It won one award. That’s what’s known as “saving face,” because I didn’t have much of one after that Oscar ceremony.

When it comes to picking the Oscars, my record is a pretty good one. I’ve rarely nailed down all the winners, but I’ve come pretty close a number of times. I suspect I’ll come pretty close again this year.

Best picture: The Social Network was the front-runner when the nominations were announced, but one can never underestimate the Oscar power of Harvey Weinstein, whose tireless and tenacious efforts have placed The King’s Speech firmly in the lead. Throughout the 1990s and into the earlier years of this century, Weinstein had a film in the running almost every year for Best Picture.

Columbia Pictures, which distributed The Social Network, hasn’t won a best picture Oscar in more than 20 years. Weinstein, for all of his Oscar wizardry, is often a divisive figure in Hollywood. Some people love him. Some people hate him. And those who hate him tend to be quite vocal in their disdain. Those factors do figure into Oscar voting; politicking is nothing new in Tinseltown — nor is this the only category this year in which politics plays a part.

Of the 10 nominees for best picture, half of them — Winter’s Bone, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3 and True Grit — probably wouldn’t have made the cut in a “normal” year.

If I go with my head, it’s The Social Network. If I go with my heart, The King’s Speech. Weinstein is counting on Oscar voters to go with their hearts. Of the two films, I liked The King’s Speech more.

Best director: Probably David Fincher for The Social Network, whether it wins best picture or not. Fincher stumbled with his first feature film, Alien3 (1992), but that wasn’t really his fault and, besides, it was an interesting failure. His subsequent films, which have included Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, have been artistic or financial successes (and sometimes both). Fincher is known to be a tough, demanding director, yet he gets results. That gets noticed. At the Oscars, it gets noticed big time.

If, however, The King’s Speech starts to sweep, director Tom Hooper might be swept along with it to best director.

Best actor: Last year, Jeff Bridges was the uncontested frontrunner (for Crazy Heart) and Colin Firth the underdog (for A Single Man). This year, their positions are reversed. Unless there’s a sudden (admittedly unlikely) groundswell of support for host Franco, best actor is Firth’s to lose.

Best actress: Black Swan was one of the more overpraised films of the year in my opinion, but that doesn’t diminish Natalie Portman’s phenomenal performance as a ballerina gone bonkers. Hollywood’s been in love with Portman since her debut in The Professional (1994). Oscar’s going to be

in love with her this year. Ever the bridesmaid, Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) will have to wait. At least she’s in good company: Julianne Moore, Joan Allen and Angela Bassett are three incredibly talented actresses who have yet to win an Academy Award yet absolutely deserve to. So it is with Bening.

Best supporting actor: It boils down to Christian Bale in The Fighter and Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech. Once again, the Weinstein magic will be put to the test. If The King’s Speech starts rolling come Oscar night, Rush might well win his second Academy Award. But Bale is a fine and dedicated actor, and never mind his well-publicized rant on the set of Terminator Salavation. Such displays of temper are hardly uncommon on movie sets, according to the filmmakers I‘ve talked to over the years. It’s just that not many of them make the web.

Best supporting actress: Melissa Leo seemed an absolute lock to win for The Fighter, at least until she took out ads in trade papers extolling her glamorous side. The Academy frowns on such acts of self-aggrandizement, no matter how well (or innocently-) intentioned they may be. If anyone’s going to exploit the Oscars, it’ll be the Academy itself, thank you very much.

Leo is still the one to beat, but she’s not unbeatable. Fellow Fighter co-star Amy Adams has notched three nominations in quick succession (Junebug, Doubt and now The Fighter), and Hollywood loves her. Newcomer Hailee Steinberg (True Grit) could be a surprise. And then there’s Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech.

Come Sunday, we’ll know. We may not know all the reasons, but we’ll have the answer.