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Academy Awards may come down to age vs. youth

Experience is supposed to give us an edge in life. But when it comes to predicting who is going to win an Academy Award, experience usually just confuses me.

Example: In the 25 years that I reviewed movies for the print edition of The Spokesman-Review, I won the S-R office pool a grand total of twice. I remember finishing several times behind sports writers who hadn’t seen a single nominated film. Oh, the shame.

That sad fact, however, has never stopped me from offering up an opinion. And while my young friend Nathan Weinbender can boast the energy, not to mention the arrogance, that comes with youth, I respond with the one attribute that age allows: persistence.

Dan Webster 

Best Actor: Demián Bichir (“A Better Life”), George Clooney (“The Descendants”), Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”), Gary Oldman (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”), Brad Pitt (“Moneyball”).

DW: Full reveal: I haven’t seen “A Better Life.” I don’t think that makes a difference, though. In a strong field, French actor Jean Dujardin has won just about every other award in existence. He should, and deserves to, win.

NW: Dujardin seems to have the lock on this. It’s a stellar performance – energetic, immediate, entirely physical – and he certainly deserves it. This is a great batch of nominees (I’m especially fond of Clooney’s and Oldman’s respective work), but one of the most glaring omissions in this category is that of Michael Shannon, whose performance elevated “Take Shelter” to near-greatness. As a man slowly coming unglued, he underplays emotions that most actors would take one step too far, and he’s an undeniably commanding presence on-screen.

Best Actress: Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs”), Viola Davis (“The Help”), Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”).

DW: Again, I haven’t seen “Albert Nobbs.” I don’t think many people have. Anyway, Close and Streep are highly respected. Still, Screen Actors Guild winner Davis is the one to beat in this category.

NW: This one is tougher to predict. When the nominees were first announced, it seemed to be a clear head-to-head between Streep and Williams, both playing uncanny likenesses of well-known historical figures. But Davis has crept up from behind to be a possible spoiler, and although I once was confident three-time nominee Williams would win, now I’m not so sure. Following her SAG win, I think Davis now has the edge: She’s a remarkably expressive performer and deserves recognition.

Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh (“My Week with Marilyn”), Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”), Nick Nolte (“Warrior”), Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”), Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”).

DW: Aside from the inside-Hollywood joke here (Jonah Hill? Seriously?), at operation is the “Thanks for the Memories” syndrome. That points to veterans von Sydow and Plummer. My money is on Plummer, both for his poignant performance and for, belatedly, his performance in “The Sound of Music.” Really.

NW: I’m also putting my money on Plummer for this one. He’s a veteran with nearly 200 titles to his name, yet he’s only been nominated once before (for 2009’s “The Last Station,”), and the Academy will honor him this time as a sort of lifetime achievement award. Again, this is another deserving performance, and one that really brings “Beginners” to life, but where’s the recognition for Albert Brooks’ wicked turn in “Drive,” a film that really didn’t get a fair shake this year?

Best Supporting Actress: Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”), Jessica Chastain (“The Help”), Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”), Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”), Octavia Spencer (“The Help”).

DW: Two words: Octavia Spencer. While I think that Shailene Woodley (the older daughter in “The Descendants”), should have been nominated, Spencer has virtually swept all the other major awards.

NW: Spencer has this one in the bag. Enough said. But as good as she is in “The Help,” I also wish the Academy would have remembered Woodley. Hers was the definition of a breakout performance, and her chemistry with Clooney was the heart of the film.

Best director: Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”), Martin Scorsese (“Hugo”), Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”), Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”).

DW: I’m a huge fan of Malick, and I think he is the only actual visionary among the nominees. Vision, though, typically wins honorary Oscars for career achievement. French director Hazanavicius won the Director’s Guild of America award, and his film is a critical darling. He’s the odds-on choice.

NW: More often than not, Best Picture and Best Director go to the same film – the last time there was a discrepancy was in 2005, when Ang Lee won for his direction while his film, “Brokeback Mountain,” lost to “Crash” for Best Picture. This year, Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” seems to be the obvious front-runner for both awards. It seems like a given now, but this is a movie that has really come from out of nowhere in the last few months to totally dominate awards season.

Best Picture: “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” “The Help,” “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life,” “War Horse.”

DW: Other than continuing to rail about Academy rule changes (Nine nominations? Really? Not five or even 10?), and boring everyone with another argument about “The Tree of Life” being one of the great films of the millennium, the point here is to come up with a potential winner. And that would be? “The Artist,” a mostly silent film that uses contemporary attitudes to achieve – excuse me, here – an artistic blend of satire, melodrama and romantic comedy.

NW: “The Artist” is a very good movie, cleverly constructed and immensely entertaining, but if I was marking a ballot, I would not select it. In my mind, there’s one film that stands head and shoulders above its fellow nominees in terms of its vision, scope and artistry, and that’s Malick’s polarizing “The Tree of Life.” Both Dan and I have been very vocal about our support for Malick’s film, but let’s not kid ourselves: It’s too cryptic, too esoteric, too “artsy” to ever get any kind of recognition from the Oscars – the fact that it’s even nominated is a welcome surprise.

Dan Webster is a veteran film critic and former Spokesman-Review staff writer. He blogs about movies at and co-hosts the Spokane Public Radio series “Movies 101.” Nathan Weinbender is a Spokane freelance writer. In addition to writing about film for The Spokesman-Review, he frequently appears on “Movies 101.”