Thinking ahead to Sunday, what's my overall impression? Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems like a pretty lean year.

Unquestionably, there are a few memorable films in the running, but also a lot of filler -- some nominees that simply make you scratch your head in wonderment.

For instance, I was stunned to find the oppressive Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as a Best Picture nominee. How did that happen?

I was also surprised to see newcomer Rooney Mara getting a best actress nod, and Melissa McCarthy making the list for Bridesmaids. (Not that Rooney and Melissa didn't do fine work -- but this is the Oscars, right?)

How about Undefeated, the Blind Side retread and nominee for best documentary that earned lackluster reviews and a whopping 5.0 on iMDb?

Then there are the omissions, like Steve McQueen's potent Shame, which certainly should have earned Picture, Director and Actor nods (for Michael Fassbender). And how could Michael Shannon get passed over for Take Shelter, or, for that matter, Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons for Margin Call?

This reminds us that much like Washington, Hollywood lives in its own little bubble. Though this isn't exactly news, it's troubling when the industry's biggest annual event makes it quite so obvious.

Commentary aside, here are my own humble predictions for the major awards this year:

Best Picture: Along with many others, I am expecting The Artist to win, and pray this comes to pass. It is a touching and heroic film, a tribute to everything movies once were, and still can be. (Not to wear my movie sensibilities on my sleeve, but the magical Hugo would be my back-up choice -- the finest work Scorsese has produced since Goodfellas.)

Best Actor: I have a hunch George Clooney will take it, as I think he really stretched himself in The Descendants, and earned it. Still, Brad Pitt could prevail, particularly since he's yet to win an Oscar. I doubt Jean Dujardin will be trotting up to the lectern, though I'd be thrilled if this happened. (It would also be heartening to see Gary Oldman up there, as he's the best actor of the whole bunch.)

Best Actress: Viola Davis made The Help as strong as it was, and I think she'll get it. Don't count out Meryl though, as she's having one hell of a late career run. And though she's been nominated an astonishing 17 times, she has not won anything in nearly 30 years.

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, for all the right reasons. And with several wins, including a Golden Globe, under his belt, his triumph feels inevitable. (If Jonah Hill wins, I'm going on a bender. And I like baseball.)

Best Supporting Actress: I'm rooting for Janet McTeer, because she's the finest actress virtually no one's ever heard of, and she almost redeems a pretty lousy film. (If not, then just perhaps Jessica Chastain -- because 1) she's good, 2) she's in everything all of a sudden, and 3) it seems she's here to stay.)

Best Director: This one will be interesting: I favor Scorsese, but Michel Hazanavicius or even Alexander Payne might snag it. Then there's Terence Malick, of course, as the dark horse. I don't see Woody getting it. (Admirably, he avoids the Oscars. I also seem to be one of the few who thinks Midnight In Paris was overrated.)

Best Screenplay: For original screenplay, I vote for The Artist, though it would be nice to see Margin Call win for something. For best adapted screenplay, I'm putting my money on The Descendants.

Best Foreign Film: A Separation, by all means!

Best Art Direction: To my eyes, Hugo should win here, but The Artist is a contender.

Best Cinematography: The Tree Of Life, and well-earned. Whatever one may think of it otherwise, it's hard to argue the film is not brilliantly shot!

Now watch, I'll get it all wrong. Or maybe not. Regardless, at least we'll have the gowns -- and Billy Crystal.

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