Oscar Breakdown: Best Picture

This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories.

This Sunday’s 83rd Annual Academy Awards will be the second year in a row featuring ten nominees up for Best Picture, and once again that means a list inflated with titles that have zero chance of winning the award. No one really believes the idea was a good one, but it caters to a wider array of movie fans happy to see their favorite of the year get nominated. The five “actual” contenders this year are Black Swan, The Fighter, 127 Hours, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network with those final two films as the front-runners.

The nominees are listed below with my prediction for the winner in red…

Black Swan

Why It Was Nominated: Darren Aronofsky’s latest proved that audiences will actually buy tickets to watch pretty young women make out in a highly sexual, nub-flicking manner. He also crafted a horror movie in the guise of an art film featuring an accessible turn from a notorious “acquired taste” of a director, as well as featuring probably the year’s best and most challenging female role. These facets combined with critical raves and a hundred million dollar box office gross made it a no-brainer for nomination.

Why It Might Win: Natalie Portman is as much of a lock as you can get for Best Actress, but the film is also drawing immense acclaim for Aronofsky. If that doesn’t lead to a Best Director win for him (which it won’t) voters may wish to reward him with a win here instead. There’s also the voting split factor between the two most likely winners… if the split between The Social Network and The King’s Speech is even enough it may leave room for a third place pic to wind up on top.

Why It Might Not Win: While Aronofsky and Portman receive well deserved accolades the film as a whole can be problematic. Its structure, tone, and genre placement is all over the map for many viewers. Barbara Hershey’s character in particular acts like a melodramatic shriek-fest who often pushes what should be real drama into the realm of Mommy Dearest absurdity.

The Fighter

Why It Was Nominated: David O. Russell’s latest proved he could direct a film without yelling at Lily Tomlin. He also produced a movie that invigorated a stale genre with new life thanks to a winning combination of four incredibly strong performances and the benefit of being based upon a true story.

Why It Might Win: This film’s chances match Black Swan‘s for the same dual reasons. It’s most likely going to win at least two awards for acting, but Russell won’t be going home with the Best Director statuette. Instead his film might squeak by as a third choice that breaks a tie between the two front-runners.

Why It Might Not Win: Most critics and audiences exit the movie praising the performances and some select scenes, but few are making a claim for the film’s overall greatness. It’s being viewed as a solid film lifted higher by the actors involved. Besides, there can be only one Best Picture winner per sport and Rocky already laid claim to this one.


Why It Was Nominated: Christopher Nolan’s latest proved that smart, original, and big-budget are words that can actually be applied to the same film. He also ended up with one of the year’s biggest hits. Some people believe the whole ‘ten Best Picture nominees’ idea was a response to The Dark Knight being shut out of the race two years ago and that the nom for Inception is to make up for that imagined sleight. Instead this appears to be occupying the same slot as was held by Avatar last year reserved for box-office behemoths (although this is a far better film obviously).

Why It Might Win: There’s always the chance the Academy decides to reward the box-office the same way it did Titanic back in 1997. James Cameron’s film was in no way the best of the nominees (LA Confidential anyone?), but it was crowned king of the world nonetheless.

Why It Might Not Win: Inception generated multiple conversations about the film’s logic, or lack thereof, but as time moves on a backlash of sorts has grown regarding plot holes and inconsistencies in Nolan’s world. And by this point people may have grown sick of wondering whether or not the goddamn top falls.

The Kids Are All Right

Why It Was Nominated: Lisa Cholodenko’s latest proved that audiences will actually buy tickets to watch pretty older women express their love for each other verbally. Her film also moved the idea of an non-traditional family into the mainstream of familial comedy by <gasp> showing that families with same sex parents are no different from the “norm.” Smart comedy plus strongly written roles brought to life by fantastic actors equals Oscar nominations.

Why It Might Win: Crash‘s Marisa Tomei-sized upset over Brokeback Mountain in 2005 is viewed by some as a sleight against quality and gay-themed films, so you could argue the Academy might award this film the Oscar as a mea culpa. You’d lose that argument of course, but you could still try.

Why It Might Not Win: Best Picture is as much about the director as the actual Best Director prize, but this movie belongs more to the actors and screenplay. It’s also the second lowest grosser on this list, and with the exception of last year’s win for The Hurt Locker the Academy is on a three decade long streak of giving the top prize to box-office hits.

The King’s Speech

Why It Was Nominated: Tom Hooper’s latest proved that Colin Firth can turn even the otherwise mediocre into something somewhat magical. The film has also captured the hearts and minds of critics’ groups around the country with its fantastic central performance from the lovable Colin Firth, two strong supporting roles in Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, and a real-life tale of overcoming life’s challenges.

Why It Might Win: If you’re a gambler this is the one to put your chips on (although I prefer the riskier bet of one of the the next films on the list) as most folks think it’s a lock. The number and types of awards it’s already picked up are usually indicative of a win at the Oscars, and it leaves an audience with the Academy’s preferred response of elated inspiration. Plus it’s coming out in a kid friendly version in a week or two!

Why It Might Not Win: At the end of the day, a few good performances aside, the movie is not all that special. Hooper, who was inexplicably nominated for Best Director, could have been replaced with any number of people without altering the final film.

Find out who I think will take the top prize…

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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