Critics’ Awards: An Early Clue to the Oscars?

The nationwide film critics' associations have named their best films and actors of 2010, with 'The Social Network,' Colin Firth, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale taking an early lead for the Academy Awards

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Merrick Morton / Columbia

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

BEST DIRECTOR

David Fincher, The Social Network, 17 (including two ties); Christopher Nolan, Inception, 6; Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan, 2.5, Danny Boyle, 127 Hours, 1; Olivier Assayas, Carlos, 0.5

The Academy won’t nominate Assayas; his 5½-hour biopic of the terrorist Carlos the Jackal was first shown as a French TV miniseries, making it ineligible. The other four directors should get nominations. The five nominees for the Directors Guild of America, which usually presages at least four of the five Academy nominees, are Fincher, Nolan, Aronofsky, Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech and David O. Russell for The Fighter. The Academy may cite either Boyle or Joel and Ethan Coen, for True Grit.

BEST ACTOR

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech, 14; James Franco, 127 Hours, 6; Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, 5; Colin Farrell, Ondine, 1; Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter, 1

Firth is still in front, but True Grit, ignored by the critics in every category but supporting actress, is getting traction from the movie craft unions. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominees for best actor: Jeff Bridges, True Grit, and Robert Duvall, Get Low; plus Eisenberg, Firth and Franco. Could the actors, the largest branch of the Academy, skip Bridges, last year’s winner, and go for his Crazy Heart co-star Duvall, who turned 80 this week? Duvall’s old-coot performance is that crafty-juicy kind the membership loves to reward. By the way, bless the San Diego critics for picking Farrell, in a film few people saw, along with Winter’s Bone for best film and two of its stars in the acting categories. Not that any of these awards are unarguably deserved, but the contrarian choices relieved the other groups’ lockstep ennui.

BEST ACTRESS

Natalie Portman, Black Swan, 17; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone, 4; Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right, 1; Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice, 1; Kim Hye-ja, Mother, 1; Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Vincere, 1; Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine, 1; Anne Hathaway, Love & Other Drugs, 0.5; Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 0.5

For a change, the best-actress category is overstocked — though almost exclusively by white women. In its category of Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, SAG chose Portman, Bening and Lawrence, plus Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole and Hilary Swank for Conviction. It’s only natural: Kidman has won one Best Actress Oscar, Swank two. We’d like to see Tilda Swinton become an Oscar finalist, as her turn in I Am Love was a luscious performance by our GREATEST FILM ACTRESS (forgive the shouting). But Portman would surprise the world by not winning both the SAG award and the Oscar.

(See pictures of Oscar’s youngest Best Actress nominees.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christian Bale, The Fighter, 18; Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech, 3; John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone, 2; Niels Arestrup, A Prophet, 1; Michael Ealy, For Colored Girls, 1; Armie Hammer, The Social Network, 1; Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right, 1; Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech, 1

SAG’s finalists in this category are Bale, Hawkes, Ruffalo, Rush and, for The Town, Jeremy Renner, who received SAG and Oscar nominations last year for The Hurt Locker. Rush, a Best Actor Oscar winner for Shine in 1997, will give stiff competition to the critics’ chosen one. It’s still Bale’s to lose — which, given his explosive, abusive turns on YouTube, is always a possibility. But it’d be nice for the Academy to cite Hammer, for playing the double role of Mark Zuckerberg’s twin antagonists, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss; or Arestrup, who’s so commanding as A Prophet‘s prisoner in chief. (Fun fact: Niels Arestrup anagrams into Super Latrines.)

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