Although the 2011 Oscar nominations are announced at the crack of dawn Tuesday, many of the names on the list have been foreordained for weeks. Ever since its opening in September, “The Social Network” has been the front-runner for Best Picture — although when the Producers' Guild gave its prize to “The King's Speech” on Saturday night, all the predictions were somewhat shaken.
What looked like a shoo-in now becomes more of a race, especially since the Academy tends to lean toward British accents and classy historical dramas more than toward billionaire computer nerds. Among the 10 Best Picture nominees will also certainly be “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “True Grit” (2010), “The Fighter,” "Kids Are All Right," probably “Winter's Bone” and, pole-vaulting out of the Animation category, “Toy Story 3.”
By doubling the size of its top category, the Academy removed some of the suspense. To pick five of those titles would be difficult. The only real problem for me is deciding if the 10th slot will go to “Another Year” or “The Town.”
In Best Actor, there are three sure things: Jeff Bridges, last year's winner, for “True Grit”; Colin Firth for “The King's Speech”; Jesse Eisenberg as the Facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg, and James Franco, as the adventurer who cut off his arm to save his life in “127 Hours.” The fifth slot is up for grabs.
For Best Actress, Annette Bening for “The Kids Are All Right” and Natalie Portman for “The Black Swan” are sure things. So probably is Jennifer Lawrence, whose plucky young backwoods heroine was so well done in “Winter's Bone.” Will newcomer Hailee Steinfeld edge in here for “True Grit”? I suspect voters may wait for the supporting actress category. She actually played the lead, but voters tend to consider novices in the supporting category. A possible dark horse here is Lesley Manville, the unendurable best friend in “Another Year”; director Mike Leigh writes great roles for women and has a way of winning them nominations.
The slam dunks for Best Supporting Actor are Christian Bale in “The Fighter,” Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech” and Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right.” I suspect Justin Timberlake has an excellent chance for “The Social Network,” not only because he was wonderful, which he was, but because in some sense Academy voters consider themselves as the default casting directors for the Oscarcast and would like to add a hot young pop star.
Supporting Actress? Lesley Manville and Hailee Steinfeld here, if they aren't named up top. Helena Bonham-Carter for “The King's Speech,” continuing her progress from Talented Young Brit to Great Actress. Amy Adams for “The Fighter.” Probably Mila Kunis, who essentially had the title role in “Black Swan.”
The Directors' Guild nominees for 2011 are Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David Fincher for “The Social Network,” Tom Hooper for “The King's Speech,” Christopher Nolan for “Inception” and David O. Russell for “The Fighter.” Those five therefore become overwhelming favorites.
Best Animated Feature: The wild card ever since the Academy created this category has been the possibility that a film could be nominated here and as Best Picture as well. “Toy Story 3” is in front, “Tangled” and “How to Train Your Dragon” have chances. If this weren't a cozy little category designed to provide an Oscar for corporate 3D conglomerates, “My Dog Tulip” was obviously the year's best animated film.
This was a very strong year for documentaries, and although I could make a prediction I'd be shooting in the dark. Oh, all right: “Restrepo” and “Waiting for Superman” for sure. In the best Foreign Film Category, there is no justice if the nominees do not include “I Am Love.”
The 2011 Oscar nominations will be announced live at 7:30 a.m. Chicago time on Tuesday by Academy President Tom Sherak and actress M'onique.
Immediately following, you can enter the $100,000 Outguess Ebert contest at mubi.com/oscars, ebertpresents.com or rogerebert.com.