Sunday, March 7th will be the 82nd Academy Awards and it promises to be a fairly unspectacular one as far as horse-races go. Three of the four acting categories are locked, the fourth is almost locked, and the only real competition is in the David vs. Goliath story of Kathryn Bigelow’s war action/drama The Hurt Locker vs. the spectacle of James Cameron’s Avatar. Thankfully, that’s your Best Picture race and that’s where you’ll find the drama (not in the lame pre-constructed narrative that Bigelow and Cameron were briefly married over twenty years ago).
Hit the jump to check out my predictions and preferences for the winners in the categories of “Best Picture”, “Best Director”, “Best Actor”, “Best Actress”, “Best Supporting Actor”, and “Best Supporting Actress”. I’ve also included a cheat-sheet at the end for all the other categories so if you don’t know who to put on your Oscar ballot at your party, put down my predictions and you’ll improve your odds.
- Penelope Cruz, Nine
- Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
- Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
- Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
- Mo’Nique, Precious
Should Win: Mo’Nique
Will Win: Mo’Nique
This year’s Supporting Actress nominees boiled down to Mo’Nique and everybody else. There’s no other actress on this list who even comes close. There’s not a spoiler in sight. That’s good because she gave a phenomenal performance and no one expected it from an actress known only for comedy. If and when she wins, she’ll be the third African-American in Oscar history to take home the award (the other two were Hattie McDaniel for Gond with the Wind and Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls). [Correction: Thanks to jrod for pointing out that Whoopi Goldberg also won the award for Ghost] If you’re wondering why I’m so confident in her win, it’s because she’s won the award from every organization that’s nominated her so far.
- Matt Damon, Invictus
- Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
- Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
- Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
- Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Should Win: Christoph Waltz
Will Win: Christoph Waltz
Like Supporting Actress, this award will go to and belongs to Christoph Waltz. He won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his captivating performance as Col. Hans Landa aka “The Jew Hunter.” His mixture of charm, intellect, and malice are just a few ingredients in a brilliant performance. Like Mo’Nique, Waltz has won all the awards for which he’s been nominated. They’re all deserved.
- Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
- Helen Mirren, The Last Station
- Carey Mulligan, An Education
- Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
- Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Should Win: Meryl Streep
Will Win: Sandra Bullock
For a solid stretch of the awards season, it looked like the battle for Best Actress would be between Meryl Streep for her charming performance as Julia Child in Julie & Julia and young actress Carey Mulligan for her breakout performance in An Education. But now Mulligan has fallen by the wayside and in her place has come Sandra Bullock and her sleeper hit The Blind Side. Bullock’s had a great year, she gave a fine performance, and I won’t mind if she wins. However, I was more impressed with Streep’s performance where felt like she was giving a full performance rather than just doing an impression.
- Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
- George Clooney, Up in the Air
- Colin Firth, A Single Man
- Morgan Freeman, Invictus
- Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Should Win: Colin Firth
Will Win: Jeff Bridges
Like Bullock, I have nothing against Bridges winning this award, and that’s a good thing since he will. My problem is that the role wasn’t very challenging and I don’t feel like it really pushed Bridges to a place we thought he couldn’t go (although I’ll admit those places are rare). Firth really blew me away with his performance where he conveys deep, complicated emotions with almost no dialogue and expertly played a role that was like nothing he had done before in his career.
- James Cameron, Avatar
- Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
- Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
- Lee Daniels, Precious
- Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow
Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow
You can’t count out James Cameron and Avatar, but I think the Academy wants to be on the right side of history with this one and make Bigelow the first woman ever to win Best Director. She also deserves the award because of those five she was the best director, but Academy voters don’t want to read the papers on Monday morning saying how sexist they were. That way they can go back to business as usual and making sure Bigelow is the exception that proves the rule of women directors only getting to helm romantic comedies. But if you think Cameron deserves it because of Avatar’s scope and technical complexity, allow me to counter that it’s harder to make a small movie with almost no money under harsh conditions with a limited amount of control over the elements than it is to use infinite money to create whatever you want.
- The Blind Side
- District 9
- An Education
- The Hurt Locker
- Inglourious Basterds
- A Serious Man
- Up in the Air
Should Win: Up
Will Win: Avatar
The Academy expanded the Best Picture field to ten nominees to allow for greater diversity among the films. I think that’s great because I would love it if Up won Best Picture. But since there are still only five Best Director nominees, their movies are the real contenders and the other five are more like honorable mentions. And of those five “real contenders” there are really only two (perhaps three) that have a shot at the top prize: The Hurt Locker and Avatar with Inglourious Basterds as the dark horse. The Hurt Locker has a lot of critical momentum behind it, but critics don’t get to vote at the Oscars. Avatar, on the other hand, has made ridiculous bank and now every studio wants their big budget action movies to get the 3D and IMAX 3D treatment.
The Hurt Locker deserves to win. It’s one of the best war movies in a generation. Avatar, on the other hand, is a very pretty tech demo that we won’t talk about five years from now (possibly less). Keep in mind, Titanic was also a technical marvel when it came out in 1997, but we don’t talk about that movie any more beyond its (now shattered) box office gross.
Now the dark horse in this race is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. The film won the Screen Actors Guild award, actors comprise the largest block of Academy voters, and The Hurt Locker and Avatar could end up splitting the vote, especially with the new and convoluted preferential ballot voters are using. Also, with ten nominees, our same rules of prediction may not apply. Still, I always count on being disappointed so I put my money on Avatar even though I would be happy if almost any of the other nominees beat it.
If you’re having trouble filling out your Oscar ballot, here are the front runners in the remaining categories (except for the shorts; you’re on your own there):
Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Best Editing: The Hurt Locker
Best Cinematography: The White Ribbon
Best Art Direction: Avatar
Best Sound Editing: The Hurt Locker
Best Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker
Best Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Best Original Score: Up
Best Foreign Language Film: Un Prophete (A Prophet)
Best Documentary Feature: The Cove
Best Animated Feature: Up
Best Visual Effects: Avatar
Best Song: “The Weary Kind” – Crazy Heart