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Expert alert: Favorites to win at the Oscars

Academy Award nominations were released Tuesday along with the usual fanfare. The King’s Speech led the way with 12 nominations. True Grit was next with 10 and The Social Network nabbed eight. Speculation immediately turned to the likely Oscar winners, who will be announced the evening of Feb. 27.

Wheeler Winston Dixon is the Ryan Professor of Film Studies, UNL professor of English and coordinator of the university’s Film Studies Program — and is often is tapped by the national media on all things cinematic. Since 1999, Dixon and UNL’s Gwendolyn Audrey Foster have served as Editors-in-Chief of the distinguished journal of film criticism, The Quarterly Review of Film and Video. His next book, forthcoming in late 2011, is 21st Century Hollywood  (Rutgers University Press), co-authored with Foster.

Here are Dixon’s picks, along with some comments:

Best Film: The King’s Speech has been gaining momentum as the kind of  thoughtful film the Academy loves to honor; The Social Network peaked rather early, and is losing some steam, and with the Oscars nearly upon us, I think that The King’s Speech has a chance for best picture. But since The King’s Speech was an upset winner at the Producer’s Guild Awards, I think it has a better shot.

“With the surprise Director’s Guild win by Tom Hooper for Best Director for The King’s Speech, shutting out David Fincher for The Social Network, I’d say Hooper is on track to snag the Oscar for Best Director at the Oscars, and the film itself will win Best Picture. It may well sweep the other categories, as well. As Gregg Kilday in the Hollywood Reporter noted on 1/29/11, ‘on only  six occasions since the DGA Awards began in 1948 has the DGA winner failed to go on to win the Oscar for Best Director.

“Hooper’s win is particularly surprising since he has only one  theatrical feature film under his belt, The Damned United, and other  than that has directed TV movies and serial dramas, such as 2008’s John Adams.”

Best Actor: “Colin Firth for The King’s Speech.”

Best Actress: “Natalie Portman for Black Swan, or Annette Bening for  The Kids Are All Right, a much better film than Black Swan.”

Best Director: “David Fincher for The Social Network, even if the film itself doesn’t win top honors.”

Best Supporting Actor: “Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech seems a lock to me.”

Best Supporting Actress: “Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom, if there’s any justice in the world.”

Best Documentary Feature:Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Best Animated Feature:Toy Story 3.”

Best Foreign Film:Biutiful (Mexico) by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.”

What’s missing?: “A raft of excellent films, from 102-year-old Manoel de Olivera’s superb The Strange Case of Angelica (which should be in the Foreign category), to Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme (although the Academy gave him an Honorary Life Achievement Oscar this year, which Godard refused to accept in person); Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, Alain Resnais’s mesmeric Wild Grass (actually a 2009 film); Jacques Audiard’s brutal crime drama A Prophet; Calire Denis’s White Material, one of her best films, about power struggles in colonial Africa; Gareth Edwards’s Monsters, a superb British sci-fi romance shot on a shoestring budget; the epic film Carlos; and Rabbit Hole, as well as Blue Valentine, all of which I think will be overlooked when the final awards are handed out.

The trend is towards comfortable, audience pleasing films, especially after the win of The Hurt Locker last year, which while a superb film, wasn’t a huge a big boxoffice winner. The King’s Speech is a small budget, surprise out-of-nowhere contender, especially given the film’s R rating; True Grit is also hot right now, and new in the mix, and a PG-13 rated film, which may give it more traction.

But I don’t see any ‘difficult’ films winning awards this year; I think audiences, and the Academy, want safety, solidity, and the reassurance of the past, and that’s what the nominees offer — except for The Social Network, which depicts the future as a bleak, forbidding place indeed, in Fincher’s trademark cold, clinical style.

“With momentum continuing to build behind The King’s Speech, coupled with all the ruckus about possibly re-editing the film for a PG-13 rating (which shouldn’t happen), I predict that The King’s Speech will pretty much sweep the field on Oscar night, and with 12  nominations, that’s a lot of territory.”

Wheeler Winston Dixon can be reached at wdixon1@unl.edu or (402) 472-6064. And be sure to watch Dixon’s regular video feature, “Frame By Frame.”

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