There could be some surprise winners at the Oscars – that’s why they’re called surprises – but over the weekend the major categories became so boringly predictable that the biggest mystery is whether James Franco and Anne Hathaway can unsettle the stodgy show as hosts. Don’t count on surprises there either.
On Saturday, Tom Hooper won the Directors’ Guild award for The King’s Speech. On Sunday, The King’s Speech won best ensemble from the Screen Actors Guild (its equivalent of Best Picture), so Hooper and the film are now strong leads for those Oscar categories.
Natalie Portman won Best Actress for Black Swan, putting her in the lead over Annette Bening. Another question is whether the nearly-certain winners will give speeches worth hearing. (Points off for actors who carry pieces of paper on stage; do they appear on screen carrying scripts?) Portman is not bad at speeches, and in a mini-surprise was actually bleeped by TBS and TNT when thanking her parents on Sunday. She said they raised her to “never be an asshole.” She’s elegant and went to Harvard, so she made it sound charming, not bleeepable.
In the self-fulfilling prophecy department, the other acting awards went to the same old winners who have been turning up all season: Christian Bale and Melissa Leo from The Fighter for supporting roles and Colin Firth for his lead in The King’s Speech.
The King’s Speech has pulled ahead partly because of heavy-duty campaigning by the Weinstein Company, but that only works if they have the right campaign material. Here they're working with a nice, literate British film that won’t offend anyone. The Social Network is swift, smart and acerbic; Black Swan is over-the-top audacious. They’re both better, more exciting movies than The Kings Speech, but like anything risky, they divide people.
And speaking of risks, the Academy hates that. It takes itself so seriously that Oscar producers have learned the hard way that if they invite someone irreverent like Chris Rock or Jon Stewart to host, they’ll regret it the morning after. So while Franco and Hathaway may seem fresh, it all depends on whether the show will suffer from the same old dreary writing.
Here’s a quick version of the promo that began running on nominations day. I like the hosts' energy, but I still think the Rocky music and lame comedy are bad omens.