On the theory that it is an honor just to be nominated, here are names I hope to hear when Oscar nods are announced tomorrow. Not all are my top picks, and I know that some don't have a realistic chance. But each deserves to be recognized -- in the correct categories.
For best actor, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech:
Yes, Firth is magnificent as stuttering King George VI (and I'm rooting for Jesse Eisenberg's uncanny Mark Zuckerberg anyway), but his performance wouldn't be possible without Rush's superb and generous acting. I understand that nominating Rush as best supporting actor might insure him an award. But it also would reduce the stature of his accomplishment. Rush anchors the whole film with his rare capacity to express thought as well as emotion; he finds the full comic and dramatic range to his role as an eccentric speech therapist. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences never used to shy away from putting costars in the same category; Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton both got nominated for "Becket." I say, return to this honest approach -- not just for Rush and Firth in "The King's Speech," but also for Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in "The Kids Are All Right."
For best actress, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, Noomi Rapace in The Millennium Trilogy, and Helen Mirren in The Tempest:
The oddest omission so far this awards season has been Noomi Rapace (left) for her smoking dry-ice interpretation of Goth super-hacker Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish-language versions of Stieg Larsson's Millennium thrillers. No one drew more praise or attracted more attention in the first half of the year; is this simply a case of memory lapse? The Miliennium films weren't triumphs of the thriller-makers' craft (that's what I expect from David Fincher's English-language version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"). But they got better as they went along (less gloomy-doomy, more headlong), and Rapace elevated them to a high level of psychological suspense.
On the odd thinking that she's too young for the best actress category, Steinfeld might be nominated as best supporting actress for "True Grit." But she is the main source of this movie's amazing appeal. She's totally in command of the wonderfully intricate Charles Portis-derived dialogue. She boasts a robust rapport with costars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. And she conveys bone-deep commitment to a character who backs up talk with conviction and integrity. All that has made the film the kind of must-see that cuts across all niches of the audience and almost make the movies seem like a popular art again.
Did the Academy simply feel that it had honored Mirren enough? Mirren not only mastered the terribly difficult part of Prospero in "The Tempest." With the help of director Julie Taymor she also brought novel dimensions to the role when re-imagining it as "Prospera," a woman exiled for supposed witchcraft. She found new depth to a parent laying benign plots for a daughter -- and a new farcical lightness to the dream of re-entering society on one's own terms.
For best supporting actress, Dale Dickey in Winter's Bone:
As the matriarch of an Ozarks clan in "Winter's Bone," Dale Dickey changes the center of gravity of every scene she's in. She has amazing standing force: without moving a muscle she conveys weathered strength and shrewdness as well as primal and often criminal wisdom. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the young heroine of "Winter's Bone," won the lioness' share of attention, but one reason you knew she was so good was how well she stood up to Dickey.
For best cinematography and best adapted screenplay, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1:
Harry Potter has turned into the Rodney Dangerfield of franchises: It just can't get any respect from the Academy. If Alfonso Cuaron didn't win a nomination for directing the third Potter film ("The Prisoner of Azkaban"), there's no way David Yates will one for the first part of "Deathly Hallows." But couldn't Eduardo Serra swing one for best cinematography, or Steve Kloves for best adapted screenplay? Kloves artifully carved a book as long as "Bleak House" down to the proportions of a two and a half hour running time -- and Kloves still left room for director Yates and his great young actors to breathe.
For best actress and best actor, Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi in Vincere:
The Academy frequently used to honor foreign films outside the best foreign-language film category. I saw no better foreign-language film last year than Marco Bellochio's "Vincere," the shattering story of the woman who refused to back down from her contention that she was Benito Mussolini's first wife, though it embarrassed Il Duce and endangered her life. Mezzogiorno won the National Society of Film Critics' best actress award, but it's hard to tell what's more extraordinary: her tragic lyricism as the heroine. or Timi's ardor as the young Mussolini -- and his wicked, angry humor as his son (he played both roles).
Photo of Rush and Firth by Frazer Harrison.