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Oscar Watch: True Grit vs. Social Network, Bening vs. Portman

Oscar Watch: True Grit vs. Social Network, Bening vs. Portman

How quickly momentum shifts in the Oscar race after nominations reveal the lay of the land. Every single one of the Gurus ‘O Gold who was voting for The Social Network to win best picture switched to The King’s Speech. Wow.

And now the race is on: Focus Features has no intention of losing Annette Bening’s shot for Best Actress for The Kids Are All Right (four five Oscar nominations) to Natalie Portman, who stars in Black Swan (six noms). On Oscar nominations morning, the Gurus ‘o Gold all voted for a Portman win. It’s her best performance to date, with a high degree of difficulty (she trained to dance on point) and right now it’s hers to lose. But over the next few weeks, her lead could narrow.

The Academy directors branch may have gone for Darren Aronofsky over Inception‘s Chris Nolan, but overall Black Swan hasn’t played that well for the Academy, and the actors skipped Mila Kunis and nominated Mark Ruffalo. Both actresses won Golden Globes, in drama and comedy, respectively. Which one will SAG and the Academy at large, especially the dominant actors branch, go for?

Bening has a Tribute Friday night in Santa Barbara (which I will cover), has a long career of great performances behind her, has been nominated three times before, and is long overdue. She is going out to the talk show rounds (Nightline, Charlie Rose and Regis) and will participate in a Q and A during her Feb. 7 retrospective at L.A. ‘s Music Hall Theater. Bening also gave a strong performance in 2010’s Mother and Child. Let us not forget that mature Academy members may reward her not only for her talent, but for being a beautiful woman who is aging naturally without any cosmetic surgery aids. (Here’s my flip cam interview.)

The other movie gaining momentum is late-breaking holiday hit True Grit, which nabbed ten Oscar nominations. Dimming its Oscar prospects are recent wins for the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men) and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart. Ex-film critic Frank Rich had a field day in the NYT comparing crossover hit western True Grit with zeitgeist parable The Social Network. One affirms basic American values, even on the wild frontier; the other reveals the lack of moral fiber in today’s mercenary world. Americans, argues Rich, are just as attracted to the world order portrayed by True Grit amid the chaos of our time as they were in 1969, when the first film came out, liberals and conservatives alike:

Talk about Two Americas. Look at “The Social Network” again after seeing “True Grit,” and you’ll see two different civilizations, as far removed from each other in ethos as Silicon Valley and Monument Valley. While “Social Network” fictionalizes Mark Zuckerberg, it mines the truth of an era — from the ability of the powerful and privileged to manipulate the system to the collapse of loyalty as a prized American virtue at the top of that economic pyramid.

In contrast to Mattie’s dictum, no one has to pay for any transgression in the world it depicts. Zuckerberg’s antagonists, Harvard classmates who accuse him of intellectual theft, and his allies, exemplified by a predatory venture capitalist, sometimes seem more entitled and ruthless than he is. The blackest joke in Aaron Sorkin’s priceless script is that Lawrence Summers, a Harvard president who would later moonlight as a hedge fund consultant, might intervene to arbitrate any ethical conflicts. You almost wish Rooster were around to get the job done.

Richard Brody of The New Yorker wonders why the Oscar technical nominations don’t include some of his favorites. I agree that The Social Network, at least, deserves to win a Sound Oscar for that amazing pounding disco scene which allows us to hear every word between Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker over the blasting music.

[Illustration courtesy of Barry Blitt/NYT]

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