Every year we think we all have it figured out. Even before the votes have been cast we figure to know where the waters have shifted and must sit back idly waiting for the inevitable to occur. Those on the Oscar beat writing about it day-in and day-out find ways to invent stories and controversies. Some even suck up to powerful studio heads and jump on the bandwagon of an underdog despite evidence that they are doing nothing but printing the ramblings of a one-man hype machine. Shame on them and may they all lose their Oscar pool to the Grim Reaper.
There are locks though and then there are LOCKS. And this year looks more than ever to be full of the latter. We probably said the same thing last year too while we see-sawed on Mickey Rourke over Sean Penn or bought into the suggestion that Viola Davis was going to steal the award in a now Winslet-less category. We don't know in what order the non-surprises will be revealed on Sunday, so we might as well just go down the list in order of confidence. Of my own prognostication prowess that is. But we will finish with Best Picture anyway, even if such confidence would rank it much higher on this particular inventory.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
If you are a gambling man or woman, one online site has Christoph Waltz at minus 2500. That means you would have to plunk down $2,500 if you wanted to win a measly $100. Sure it's an easy hundy, but who wants to risk 25 times that on the off chance that voters can't believe that this is Christopher Plummer's first Oscar nomination and may want to see him win? You can always plunk down $500 to win twenty. Then you will have enough to go buy an Oscar-winning performance on DVD. WINNER: Christoph Waltz "Inglourious Basterds"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Like Waltz, Mo'Nique has won virtually every precursor award leading up to the big night. One person's Faye Dunaway is another's liberal guilt I suppose and it is amazing that an Oscar is going to be awarded to a performance that appears to have been inspired (in its climactic moment, at least) by Bill Cosby describing what his children sounds like after a good bating. Sometimes you can't fight the power of an overwrought Oscar clip though. WINNER: Mo'Nique "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire"
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
No commentary necessary. WINNER: Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham & Andy Jones "Avatar"
George Clooney and Morgan Freeman have already won one, even if it wasn't in the lead category. Colin Firth and Jeremy Renner received their first nominations, deservedly so, and should be honored to be in this company. It is Jeff Bridges' time though and we all know it. It may not be amongst the best work of his career. It might not even be as good as Clooney's or Renner's. But a fine performance by Bridges is still better than most actors working today and with four prior nominations without a victory, career achievements don't get much more deserved than this. WINNER: Jeff Bridges "Crazy Heart"
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Only one film is in the running in this category and Best overall Picture. A win by any other film would just be stupid. WINNER: "Up"
James Cameron, Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino are all second-time nominees. Lee Daniels is bringing up the rear. Kathryn Bigelow won the Director's Guild Award. Only six times since the inception of that award in 1948 has the DGA winner NOT gone on to win the Oscar. And two of those times the DGA winner was not even nominated. Bigelow is and has a 93% winning percentage in her favor. WINNER: Kathryn Bigelow "The Hurt Locker"
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
One of the most lasting images of 2009 was the giant pool of bloody water that remained after the Japanese poachers slaughtered the dolphins responsible for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. (Anyone watch South Park?) In all seriousness though, we know that food is bad for us and learned nothing new about Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. But no one gets away with killing dolphins. WINNER: "The Cove"
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Once thought of as the early favorite for Best Picture, Jason Reitman's Up In The Air somewhere got left behind. It's box office was very respectable if not quite the event movie for adults over the holidays some expected. It's actors are caught up in the Jeff Bridges and Mo'Nique whirlwinds and Reitman is likely to give up the Director prize to Bigelow. But this is where voters will reward the film and justifiably. WINNER: Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner "Up In The Air"
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
During the renaissance of Disney animation in the early '90s, one of Randy Newman's two nominated songs for The Princess and the Frog might have had a chance. Do you know anyone who has heard the Paris 36 song? And without Marion Cotillard performing the strip number from Nine, nobody cares about it, making a film once headed straight to DVD one of the few multiple winners of the evening. WINNER: The Weary Kind "Crazy Heart"
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
James Horner's score for Avatar sounds, as always, like most of his others. Even fans of The Hurt Locker barely remember the music. Hans Zimmer's work on Sherlock Holmes was one of that film's few highlights. If there is to be an upset it could be Alexandre Desplat for Fantastic Mr. Fox. He is on his third nomination in four years. Michael Giacchino is only on his second, but I bet if nothing else, people remember his music help tell the story during that beautiful montage. WINNER: Michael Giacchino "Up"
BEST ART DIRECTION
Once voters accepted the fact that Cameron's film was eligible in this category, it became the film to beat. Already a winner from the Broadcast Film Critics Association and actual critics from Las Vegas, Phoenix and BAFTA, Avatar also won the Fantasy award from the Art Directors Guild. WINNER: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg & Kim Sinclair "Avatar"
Since 2001, the winner of the American Cinema Editors award (for Dramatic editing) has won the Oscar 7 out of 8 times. In 2002 Chicago won the gold - and it won the ACE award in the Comedy/Musical category. So what if Babel tied with The Departed in 2006? Trying to make a point here. The Hangover won the Comedy ACE this year. But it is not nominated for an Oscar. You know what is and what won the Dramatic ACE? WINNER: Bob Murawski & Chris Innis "The Hurt Locker"
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Leterrier (Coco Before Chanel) and Monique Prudhomme (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) received their first nominations this year. Janet Patterson (Bright Star) is on her fourth (including her third for a Jane Campion film.) Colleen Atwood (Nine) is also up for the trifecta working with Rob Marshall. In fact, the two times she won was for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. Like Atwood, Sandy Powell is on her eighth nomination. She is also an eight-time nominee and two-time winner (Shakespeare In Love, The Aviator). It would be nice to see Gilliam pull an upset here since when you see one Victorian era costume you have seen 'em all and I wasn't exactly paying attention to the clothing in Nine. This is a close call. The last three years the Oscar has gone to The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Marie Antoinette. When in doubt... WINNER: Sandy Powell "The Young Victoria"
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
A Serious Man and The Messenger are unlikely to make a dent here, especially with the Coen's having won twice already. Is it time for Pixar to finally win a screenplay Oscar? Will voters consider The Hurt Locker more of a director's film than a writer's one? Probably. Though Mark Boal's work does have some heat beyond all the B.S. stories about whether the film is inaccurate or actually cribbed from real-life events. But in the true spirit of this whole socialism movement we keep hearing about from people who can't spell, the Oscars will continue to spread the wealth and award a film about Nazis. WINNER: Quentin Tarantino "Inglourious Basterds"
Knee-jerk logic tells you to go for the film with creatures. Which means Star Trek. On the other hand, making people just look old is extremely popular too. Which means Il Divo. The past two years the Oscar has gone to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and La Vie En Rose. The two years before that it was Pan's Labyrinth and The Chronicles of Narnia. The bigger question is how The Young Victoria managed to shut out both District 9 and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in this category. Hold on tight for a ridiculous upset, Trekkers, but I think you've got this one. WINNER: Barney Burman, Mindy Hall & Joel Harlow "Star Trek"
Everyone was thinking Avatar had this one in the bag. Then those pesky Cinematographers and their American Society went and chose The White Ribbon. They also liked the black-and-white The Man Who Wasn't There, but only nominated Good Night, And Good Luck and completely snubbed Schindler's List (which won the Oscar) in favor of another Steven Zaillian script, Searching for Bobby Fischer. The precursor awards have been pretty evenly split between The Hurt Locker (5 wins, 4 nominations, runner-up in L.A.), Inglourious Basterds (3 wins, 5 nominations) and Avatar (3 wins, 4 nominations). The White Ribbon won both the NY & LA critic awards, the National Society of Film Critics and now the ASC. 14 of the last 20 winners of the Cinematography Oscar has been a Best Picture nominee. 11 of the last 20 ASC winners have lost the Oscar, but then again 3 of the last 4 have won. WINNER: Christian Berger "The White Ribbon"
The Cinema Audio Society in their 16 years of awards have a 50/50 split on their winner with the Oscar. So you can flip a coin or you can just go along with their winner. WINNER: Paul N.J. Ottosson & Ray Beckett "The Hurt Locker"
BEST SOUND EDITING
Since 1981, the film that won the Best Sound Oscar also won the Sound Editing prize just 11 times - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), The Right Stuff (1983), Terminator 2 (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), Speed (1994), Titanic (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Matrix (1999), King Kong (2005) and The Boune Ultimatum (2007). That's four Spielberg's and two Cameron's for those keeping count. Cameron's people are going to win one if not both these awards. Or I could have these backwards. Either way it is these two categories that may ultimately determine which of the two favorites end up with the most Oscars this evening. WINNER: Christopher Boyes & Gwendolyn Yates Whittle "Avatar"
BEST FOREIGN FILM
It appears commonplace recently that when we have a clear favorite most people seem to agree on in this category, it usually loses out. Departures beat out Waltz With Bashir in 2008. Pan's Labyrinth and its six Oscar nods lost to the (admittedly more deserving) The Lives of Others in 2006. Everyone's champion this years appears to be The White Ribbon. But we have both Ajami and A Prophet getting praise in release now and some touting The Secret In Their Eyes as the underdog to watch out for. Earlier in the week I said A Prophet which won BAFTA's prize. But they have not matched up with Oscar since 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I can just feel that whatever I pick here I'm going to be wrong. Screw it. WINNER: "The White Ribbon"
In what will be the most closely watched acting race of the evening, we have in one corner the world class Meryl Streep with her record-setting 16th Oscar nomination and in the other the box office queen of 2009, Sandra Bullock, with her first. Comparing the quality of these two performances is a non-conversation. You may as well hand in your critic card if you think otherwise. Meryl Streep hit it out of the park while Bullock adopted a Southern accent and a large black man. Hell, Streep should win just for mastering Julia Child's speech patterns compared to a few extra vowels on Bullock's part. But we're not necessarily voting quality now are we? How sad is that? If we're awarding a career achievement like Jeff Bridges (Bullock's kidnapper and murderer in the remake of The Vanishing), then how does Streep not win this? She hasn't won since 1982's Sophie's Choice and has lost the Oscar 11 times since then. Many thought Streep was overdue last year and was primed for a victory for Doubt until Kate Winslet jumped into the lead category to get her own overdue award.
Being overdue certainly didn't help Peter O'Toole or Lauren Bacall, now did it? So then are we awarding a comeback because Bullock had the two biggest hits of her career last year? I understand she is well liked. Hell, I like her even if I can practically count on a hand the number of good movies she has starred in. Does she have the edge because Nora Ephron screwed up Julie & Julia by devoting half the time away from Streep? Statistics are no help here. Bullock won the Screen Actors Guild award and they are 10-for-15 in Best Actress. The only SAG winner to also win the Broadcast Film Critics Association award and a Golden Globe and then lose the Oscar was Julie Christie in 2007. The Globes are no help in giving the Dramatic award to Bullock and the Comedy one to Streep. The BFCA hedged their Oscar prediction bets by offering up a tie for the second year in a row involving Streep (with Bullock in '09 and Anne Hathaway in '08.) You will hear no greater cheer than the one at my Oscar party if Streep wins this award. But this is one of those instances where my head is stomping on my heart. WINNER: Sandra Bullock "The Blind Side"
And so it comes down to this. As promised, we're doing Best Picture last just to stick with tradition. Cause honestly, this would be much higher on the list if I were sticking with degrees of difficulty. You can tell that The Hurt Locker is the front runner because of all the negative stories that have been coming out in the last few weeks. We have watched as a number of Oscar "journalists" have taken the bait and run with stories to knock Bigelow's film off the pedestal created by sweeping the major Guild awards. Has there ever been a more disgusting bit of Oscar pandering than to hear both Harvey Weinstein and James Cameron go on record to say "give Bigelow Best Director, but give US Best Picture?" Yeah that's right guys. Condescend to the woman and give her that little also-ran award. Throw her a bone so you can take the meat. Disgusting.
Let's bring back the stats, shall we?
- The Producers Guild Award winner has won 13 of 20 times.
- Kathryn Bigelow is going to win Best Director. 15 of the last 20 directors to win the Oscar also watched their film win Best Picture (including 5 of the last 6.)
- Only eight films have swept the Producer's, Director's and Writer's Guild awards and just one (Brokeback Mountain) did not win Best Picture. The other seven were Dances with Wolves (1990), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Schindler's List (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), American Beauty (1999), No Country for Old Men (2007) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
- There have been only four films that have swept those three Guilds and added a trophy from the American Cinema Editors. They are Dances with Wolves, Schindler's List, Forrest Gump and Slumdog Millionaire. The Hurt Locker is the fifth.
WINNER: "The Hurt Locker"
Come Sunday, everyone will be counting how many Oscars Avatar will be taking in as a sign that it is headed for a Best Picture victory. And it is certainly one to note. There have been a lot of ties for most victories over the years and several years where the eventual Best Picture winner was trailing the leader by one trophy (or tied) until its name was announced at the end of the evening. Only 15 times in their 81-year history has a film won more Oscars than the Best Picture victor and just four times in my lifetime. In 1976 when All the President's Men and Network won 4 Oscars to Rocky's 3. 1977 saw Star Wars win 6 to Annie Hall's 4. 1981 it was Raiders of the Lost Ark taking 5 to Chariots of Fire's 4. And most recently in 2004, Scorsese's The Aviator had 5 trophies to the 4 collected by Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby. Avatar could walk away, I believe, with as many as five Oscars. Four could be a nice compromise. If my predictions hold true though, The Hurt Locker will defeat Avatar 4-3 - with the fourth Oscar being the one for Best Picture.