Brian Wolowitz: There’s always a certain amount of “process of elimination” when it comes to Oscar favorites, so let’s see: Pitt was nominated for the wrong role (should’ve been Tree of Life), Clooney’s done better work in a million films, Dujardin’s role required no real acting, and I have no idea who the hell Demián Bichir is. That leaves Gary Oldman, whose minimalist performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was impressive enough that process of elimination worked out nicely for me this time.
Jake Cole: Gary Oldman has the best on-screen temper in show business, but his deliberately ephemeral performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a new triumph. So subdued he nearly fades into the background, Oldman nevertheless suggests depths of cunning with the slightest nod. The Academy too often rewards showy, boisterous acting (which begs the question why Oldman is only just now being nominated), but it would be so marvelous to see them award Oldman for the reverse acting trend and encourage more magnificently restrained work such as this.
Dan Seeger: When Al Pacino finally won his long-deserved Oscar, it was for one of his weakest performances, the scenery-gnawing, aggravating hooahing of Scent of a Woman. Whether there’s a direct cause and effect or not, Pacino has been locked into that horrid mode for too many performances ever since, the same way a little kid rewarded with giggles for uttering a dirty words turns into an insufferable little potty-mouth. Using that logic, I’m hoping the Academy will defy expectations and give Best Actor to Gary Oldman for his beautifully internalized work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I don’t actually think he deserves to win, even measured against his competitors (I’d still be stubbornly writing in Michael Shannon for Take Shelter on my ballot), but I’d much rather see him style the remainder of his career around this than the showier junk that’s largely defined him up until now.
Trevor Link: For an award show like the Oscars, my picks are usually pragmatic: I don’t need my favorite films and individuals to be celebrated in order to justify my love for them, so I tend to make my picks based on who I feel deserves to gain greater exposure to the general public. It helps when your pick actually has a chance of winning, so for that reason, I’d like it if this award went to Jean Dujardin. It’s always great when individuals from other countries win, because these are the individuals about which Americans are, somewhat understandably but not acceptably, most ignorant. Dujardin is this year’s most radiant crowd-pleaser, and despite the many valid criticisms of The Artist, it’s fitting that his wonderful performance was part of a movie that at least attempted to celebrate cinema’s past. The film sought to hearken back to the age of movie magic, but only in Dujardin’s performance did it truly succeed and give a glimpse of a real, honest-to-goodness star. His smile alone deserves a prize.
Chaz Kangas: Clooney is most likely to get the nod. People have been calling this performance his best since Return of the Killer Tomatoes, plus they want to hear the sequel to his Golden Globes acceptance speech that solely consisted of “Whaddup Pitt?” and “Michael Fassbender has a titanic johnson.” I am holding out hope though that Moneyball finally puts promising young starlet Bradford J. Pittington on the map.
Nick Hanover: As much as I’d like Gary Oldman to finally win an Oscar, my vote has to go to Jean Dujardin, who did much of the heavy lifting in the wondrous The Artist as George Valentin, and all without the benefit of dialogue. Dujardin’s performance could so easily have fallen into what the film itself terms “mugging for the camera,” a caricature act of cheesy overacting and ludicrous expressions. Instead Dujardin brought profound subtlety to his performance, imbuing the film with surprising emotional depth and true sadness where it was called for. So much of The Artist‘s success is owed to Dujardin and it’s difficult to imagine the film working at all without him.
Kyle Fowle: Dujardin singlehandedly elevates a mostly stale film. He deserves the Oscar.
Best Supporting Actor:
Brian Wolowitz: Whether or not you bought into the film’s subtitled doggy or moon-eyed romance, everyone seems to agree that Christopher Plummer was nothing but wonderful in Beginners. A guy who’s been around forever, but does his best work playing someone’s elderly gay dad in a sensitive indie? That’s the stuff that Best Supporting categories were made for.
Jake Cole: It’s hard not to side with Nick Nolte’s utterly heartbreaking performance in Warrior, but there’s just no beating Christopher Plummer’s effortlessly charming and ultimately devastating portrait in Beginners as a man permitted to live freely only in his dying years. Plummer is funny, effervescent and even a bit snarky at times while still being lovable. The whole movie is a fresh spin on overdone indie clichés, but Plummer is the heart and soul of the film.
Jesse Cataldo: I would rather see Jonah Hill win for The Sitter than have Max Von Sydow’s career peak with this nonsense. Plummer will win anyway, because his character’s old/dying/gay trifecta trumps Von Sydow’s teary-eyed silence.
Chaz Kangas: I’m going with Jonah Hill.
Nick Hanover: Since this category is almost entirely a joke this year (fucking Jonah Hill? Really?!), I’m going to give my vote to Nick Nolte, simply because I feel like the guy needs the morale boost. Just remember: giving Nick Nolte an Oscar means we’re slightly less likely to see a repeat of this.
Kyle Fowle: Plummer takes it home, while Jonah Hill stares blankly into the camera, just like he did in Moneyball.
Brian Wolowitz: The Academy boned up this field so egregiously this year that I’m tempted to just bite my tongue here. Let’s go with “anyone but Meryl.” She doesn’t need another Oscar, especially in a year when so many great performances by younger actresses went unnominated.
Jake Cole: One of the worst lead slates I’ve seen in years. Gotta go with Viola Davis’ turd-polishing performance as a spoon-polishing maid in The Help. I’d like to think a win would open up the kind of roles Davis, one of the best actresses working, deserves. Then I remember what happened to Halle Berry and this whole sad mess just gets sadder.
Trevor Link: Taken together, his year’s nominees for best actress represent Hollywood at its most gimmicky and prestige-chasing. But as the star of one of my favorite films this year, and very possibly my favorite American film, Rooney Mara absolutely deserves this award, which means she probably won’t get it. You may call her role something of a gimmick, but David Fincher couldn’t have made his film work without the right performer to animate that role. Underneath the hair, makeup, clothes, and backstory was a performer who so embodied her role that she at times seemed like another kind of human being altogether, a creature from another world. Taut and controlled, her performance was one with inhuman precision, but grounding it was a body, contorted and constantly shifting, that suggested the kind of raw, immediate presence that deserves its plaudits. Most impressive of all is the fact that she might not even need this award, though: Mara’s performance is career-defining, and it promises a great future for this nuanced actress.
Jesse Cataldo: Maybe if the Academy finally puts a moratorium on Meryl Streep being nominated, she will stop making these types of movies.
Chaz Kangas: Glenn Close… but no cigar! It’s either going to be Meryl Streep for playing Iron Man’s unnecessary female sidekick or Viola Davis for actually creating a character from scratch. I think it will be Streep, because Streep is the cousin of death.
Nick Hanover: There is only one choice in this category and it is Michelle Williams. As much as the Academy seems to love hammy race relation films and all things Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams provided the only powerhouse performance out of all the nominees with her work in My Week with Marilyn, an otherwise unremarkable film that was only worth seeing for Williams’ turn as Marilyn Monroe. Taking on the legendary Marilyn Monroe would be difficult for any actor, but Williams went above and beyond, avoiding all the pitfalls of parody and tribute and achieving just the right balance of haunting beauty and massive sorrow. Williams conveyed the emotional complexity of Monroe in a way that lesser actors couldn’t even dream of and while it was arguably wasted on a film like My Week with Marilyn, there’s no denying that the role was a highlight in a career full of them.
Danny Djeljosevic: Rooney Mara certainly disappeared into the role of alien mutant Lisbeth Salander, but that autistic performance is way too off-putting for a Golden Statue. While I’m rarely ever keen on actors playing famous people, Michelle Williams actually brought a very real, human and insightful dimension to Marilyn Monroe that deserves all the praise it’s been getting, especially for brightening up such a mediocre film. But Williams’ chances are slim because of Meryl Streep.
Kyle Fowle: I would love for Rooney Mara to win this. Her physicality in Fincher’s film alone is staggering. Viola Davis takes this one home though, flipping off Michelle Williams in the process.
Best Supporting Actress:
Brian Wolowitz: None of the choices is appealing, really, but I’ll vote for Jessica Chastain because she did so much good work in other films this year that giving her an award for the worst of them would be — well, it would be stupid, but at least the statue would go to a genuinely terrific actress.
Jake Cole: A good supporting performance can make even the dullest film enthralling for a few minutes, and Janet McTeer’s role as a smirking, confident cross-dresser made me wish Albert Nobbs was instead Hubert Page. She has all the personality Albert lacks, and her brief appearances are like cool breezes blowing into a stuffy room.
Dan Seeger: Last year, Hailee Steinfeld was dropped unceremoniously into the supporting category despite the little fact that her character was in practically every scene of the Coen brothers’ masterful True Grit. That was met with plentiful and wholly justifiable dismay. This year, there’s been barely a peep over a similar misfiling of Bérénice Bejo from The Artist. I agree that Jean Dujardin is the one who emerges with the most goodwill from Michel Hazanavicius’ endearingly gimmicky lark, but Bejo’s character is as pivotal to the story’s mechanics as the wounded leading man. Of course, I don’t understand why Octavia Spencer is on the fast-track to an Oscar win for doing nothing special whatsoever in The Help or what Melissa McCarthy’s amusing but paper-thin performance is doing here, so maybe this whole category is a mystery to me.
Chaz Kangas: It’s going to be Octavia Spencer for her amazing performance. However, Bérénice Bejo being a “supporting actress” is absurd as there is no The Artist without her. Between this and Hailee Steinfeld getting the same treatment for True Grit, it’s just further proof that the Academy hates women.
Nick Hanover: I am thoroughly confused about Bérénice Bejo’s placement in this category, since her performance as Peppy Miller in The Artist seemed like a co-starring role to me. Bejo and co-star Jean Dujardin provided a pairing for the ages, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers but with a heavy dose of tragedy and juxtaposition. Bejo arguably had the more difficult role in the film, as Miller is the film’s most complicated character, equal parts accidental villain and love interest. Indirectly responsible for the downfall of Dujardin’s George Valentin, Bejo’s Miller also serves as his savior and guardian angel, an innocent figure whose only interest is in saving her hero. But rather than allow the character to fall into childlike naivety, Bejo turns her into a figure that’s ultimately as tragic as Valentin, with her sadness driven not by the way time has passed her by but in how she’s helped push out her own idol and love interest. It’s a powerful and charismatic performance that may very well turn Bejo into a household name stateside.
Kyle Fowle: Chastain might take this one home; shame it’s for the wrong film. The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, anyone?