Once again, it is that time of year - OSCARS - 2011. As in the past - really just for two years - Reel Time Reviews presents its pick for the Best Picture of the Year, along with predictions on who will win, and who should win among the nominees in the various other categories, along with some thoughts on performances overlooked by the Academy.

A brief explanation of the symbols used throughout. For the predictions of who will win – WW; should win – SW; and for the overlooked performances in each of the categories - Shoulda Been a Contender - SBC.

We begin with the Best Supporting Actor:

WW: Christopher Bale - "The Fighter."

SW: Same. His performance as the older brother wallowing in the memories of a career that might have been, ravished in mind and body by drug abuse, dominated the screen and made the film into something more than just a "Rocky" wanna be.

SBC: Michael Douglas - "Wall Street II." Gordon Gecko is a cinematic icon. His mantra of "Greed is Good" set the Bonfires of the 80s. In reprising his Oscar winning role, Michael Douglas brings a new life to this old dog, and in the end, shows how hard it is to learn new tricks. His successful battle with cancer would have made a nice human interest angle as well.

Best Supporting Actress:

WW: Melissa Leo from "The Fighter."

SW: Same. The Midwest classification of "hoosiers" as forms of low, white trash apparently has an East Coast relation, embodied in the matriarch of the battling Ward family. With a constant stream of profanities and the ever present Marlboro 100, this classically trained actress nails the essence of this classless lady, the mother - from different fathers of course - of the boxing Ward boys. In a close race between Amy Adams, nominated as the girlfriend of "The Fighter," Ms. Leo takes home the gold.

SBC: Pick 'em here. Either Mila Kunis as the backstabbing "best friend" or veteran Barbara Hershey as the domineering stage mother in this year's most interesting film "Black Swan." The nomination that should have gone to one of them went to Hailee Steinfield in "True Grit," a good performance, but gerrymandered from the Lead Actress field.

Best Actor:

WW: Colin Firth - "The King's Speech."

SW: Colin Firth. As the younger son of King George the V, Colin Firth gives the performance of a lifetime. His stuttering problem - one unknown to even us History Channel junkies, is detailed with compassion and dignity. Colin Firth simply becomes the character, giving us a glimpse into the burdens of royalty, and the values of friendship. We root for him to triumph over not only his disability, but his cruel and loveless family as well. A most certain Oscar worthy performance, validating the old adage that the third time is the charm for this thrice nominated actor.

SBC: Mark Wahlberg, "The Fighter." What's wrong with this picture? Actor and actresses playing brother, girlfriend and mother, along with the film and director get a nomination, but the guy that plays the title character gets left at the station? Clearly, the film could not and would not work without the work of the former Markie Mark, now firmly established as an actor and producer. A gross omission, and in the words of another great cinematic pug - Terry Malloy from "On the Waterfront" - it was not his night, but he shoulda been a contender.

Best Actress:

WW: Natalie Portman - "Black Swan."

SW: Same. As the obsessed ballerina, slowly descending into madness, Ms. Portman is on the screen in almost every scene. Training for more than a year in ballet, she brings a realism to the performance of the classic "Swan Lake," enabling the viewer to believe the obsession for success that drives her character. Like "The Wrestler" of two years ago, also directed by Darren Aronofsky and featuring an Oscar worthy performance by Mickey Rourke, Black Swan tells the tale of a life defined by not what we are, but what we do, how work becomes life, and the ultimate price. Natalie Portman has been an upcoming performer for a number of years, and on Feb. 27, her ship comes in.

SBC: Diane Lane for "Secretariat." The "feel good" movie of the year, telling the tale of the greatest race horse of all time would have been just another Disney flick if not for the work of Diane Lane as the owner who risks it all with the Big Red stallion. A truly regal performance as Penny Chenery, the Denver - by way of Kentucky - housewife who stood the thoroughbred world on its ear should have been recognized for its power, its grace and its passion. It is a great movie out on DVD. Rent it, and be pleasantly surprised.

Best Director:

WW: David Fincher for " The Social Network."

SW: Tom Hopper for "The King's Speech." This is certainly one SW prediction that I do hope that I miss, as an Oscar for his work on "The King's Speech" is most certainly deserved for first time Nominee Hopper. It is all too human to split the difference between the Best Director and Best Picture, as Hollywood has done so often in the past, but it must not happen this time. While the afore mentioned director Aronofsky in another time and year would take the prize for the artistic work in the "Black Swan," the epic nature of The King's Speech cries out for praise to the man responsible for keeping it all together. It is a British tide sweeping into Hollywood, and perhaps along with Colin Firth, it may take director Hopper along for the ride.

SBC: Christopher Nolan for "Inception." Inception is a most strange, but interesting film, the creation of writer-director Nolan. Of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture, Inception is a better piece of work than "True Grit" - 2010, and Nolan should have gotten the nod given to the Cohen brothers.

Best Picture

WW: "The King's Speech."

SW: Same. This film has the power to entertain, to educate and to enlighten. It lifts your spirit and makes you believe in the good that lies in the soul of all men. Stylishly costumed, beautifully photographed, smartly written and expertly acted, the movie is a true inspiration and represents the very best of the Arts of the Motion Picture Academy. Its closet rival, "The Social Network" - a tale of greed, disloyalty and blind selfishness, will fall by the way side as The Kings Speech simply appeals to what Lincoln called the "Angels of our better nature." Of the 10 choices, it is the Best Picture.

SBC: "The Town." The Ben Affleck-staring drama telling the story of the Boston suburb with more bank robberies per capita that any other city in America, was real, gritty and gripping. It was a Top Ten film on many, many lists, and certainly was one of the best films of the year. Its inexplicable exclusion is made only more bitter by the selection of the cartoon Disney film "Toy Story 3," already included in the specialty category of animated films. As such, it should not have been on the final list of films. It was not that good to merit such special recognition. Ben and his boys got hosed.

Tune in Sunday and we shall all see what happens. I look for a very British flavor to the night.


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