Predicting Oscar can be precarious. Sadly, all the pre-ceremony accolades pretty much guarantee a surprise-free industry showcase.
There's really no fun in it anymore. Long ago, before the seemingly continuous announcement of every PGA/WGA/DGA award in existence, before the creation of the SAGs and the calculated Critics Choice, Oscar used to be a tad more...unpredictable. Sure, when the Academy first started, studios could literally buy one of those coveted little gold statues. Even today, people argue that major studio politicking can take a given Best Picture player (Saving Private Ryan) and turn it into a surprise last minute also-ran (Shakespeare in Love). Still, thanks to the Internet, the onslaught of journalistic groups (and their complement of acknowledgements) and the seemingly tedious grind toward the red carpet, many of the winners are long predetermined -- and that's no fun, is it?
So, by a kind of analytical proxy, predicting is really no fun either. Sure, you can sometimes sense an upset in the making (see Alan Arkin in 2007), or pray for some last minute left field finish (GO 127 HOURS!). But for the most part, every piece of the pre-Oscar puzzle leads one to an evening of anticipated anticlimaxes. Will we be pleased if some of the givens go home empty handed? Perhaps - it all depends on who or what exactly gets the bridesmaid vs. bride treatment. Will we scream if at least a couple of these certainties turn into Robin Williams/Marissa Tomeis? Damn straight, Skippy! While we will definitely be back to Monday morning quarterback the slick off these celluloid symbols, until then, enjoy these less than educated guesses. They won’t help you win the office pool, but they probably represent the best bet when it comes to figuring out the funny little movie muddle known as Hollywood, starting with the biggest one of all:
What will win: The King's Speech
What SHOULD win: Black Swan
This is really a shame, and not in a wholly embarrassing way. Somehow, the little royal movie that couldn't three months ago has become the runaway and all but declared champion. Sure, about 90% of the critics groups out there are pulling for Network, but few think it can stop another Weinstein-supported juggernaut. For a while, it looked like all The King's Speech would get is a Colin Firth nod and that's it. Now, it appears poised for the kind of sweep that leaves film fans shaking their head. It's not that the movie isn't good -- very good -- it's that at least three other films trump its talent pool. Inception remains 2010's blockbuster buzz moment, while True Grit shows the Coens as America's greatest living auteurs (plural). That just leaves Darren Aronofksy's ballet genre bender as a delightful dark horse choice. Love it or hate it, Swan should walk away with this year's award, if for artistic audacity alone.
Who will win: Tom Hooper -- The King's Speech
Who SHOULD win: Darren Aronofsky -- Black Swan
Apparently, it pays to be part of a selective clique. Hooper, who's previous experience behind the big screen lens produced questionable results, it about to beat out the men behind Se7en, Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Miller's Crossing, and Three Kings, just to name a few. It's all in that rotten DGA acknowledgement, which all but deified the UK director's otherwise journeymen like work on Speech. In a just cinematic world, Fincher would find his name on the final announcement, but it was Aronofsky who proved he could take a couple of hoary old concepts -- dance and dementia -- and turn them into a sparking display of horrifying psychological distress.
Who will win: Colin Firth -- The King's Speech
Who SHOULD win: Jesse Eisenberg -- The Social Network
Firth is the favorite -- and with good reason. He's been robbed before in the past, and just like with Jeff Bridges Crazy Heart career overview win, a trophy for his quaint, quirky, stammering king will eventually triumph. But if things were less reciprocal -- meaning it wasn't really time for Firth to finally get his -- Eisenberg's interpretation of the post-millennial genius nerd a-hole Mark Zuckerberg would be the clear cause for celebration. Delivering Aaron Sorkin's whipsmart dialogue with angst-filled finesse is one thing. To get us to appreciate -- and embrace -- Mr. Facebook's potent personality flaws is another thing all together.
Who will win: Natalie Portman -- Black Swan
Who SHOULD win: Natalie Portman -- Black Swan
Unless AMPAS members decide that poor Mrs. Warren Beatty has suffered enough on the outskirts of Oscar, Portman's devastating turn as an artist coming unglued (as well as 'of age') should walk away with it. While there'd be so arguments if someone like Jennifer Lawrence leapt in and gave us a Winter's Bone shock, it should be a White Swan walk-off on Sunday evening.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: Christian Bale -- The Fighter
Who SHOULD win: John Hawkes -- Winter's Bone
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Melissa Leo -- The Fighter
Who SHOULD win: Hailee Steinfeld -- True Grit
You have to give him credit -- before the last couple of months, Bale came across as the troubled and arrogant young Hollywood stud who shouted down anyone who disagree with his particular "artistic" demands. Now, after perfectly playing the Award season game, he's poised to pick up an Oscar. Still, Hawkes does a much better job in a much less flamboyant turn -- and this is a category often considered for surprises. As for Leo, she's looking for comeuppance after losing out for Frozen River. Still, don't disregard the strong appeal of Grit, and its amazing underage star. While clearly slumming in the wrong category (Steinfeld is the lead of the Coens' remake), she could pull a much deserved upset.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who will win: David Seidler -- The King's Speech
Who SHOULD win: Christopher Nolan -- Inception
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who will win: Aaron Sorkin -- The Social Network
Who SHOULD win: Aaron Sorkin -- The Social Network
If Speech does sweep, Seidler will get his onetime chance to bask in industry glory before falling into script doctor obscurity. On the other hand, Nolan's nuanced look at layered reality should win, if only because it managed that almost impossible feat of being an intelligent and yet wildly entertaining Summer hit. As for Adapted, Sorkin has it all sewn up. The script for The Social Network will be studied for decades, if only to highlight how witty repartee matched with complicated storytelling can lead to a minor masterwork of a screenplay.
BEST FOREIGN FILM
What will win: In a Better World
What SHOULD win: Dogtooth
As the surprise winner at the recent Golden Globes, Denmark's Better World has a real chance of unseating Biutiful as the Best Foreign film. For our money, however, the other shocker of nomination morning should be given the gold. Dogtooth is the kind of film one absorbs slowly, supplemented by the conversational considerations of those who've also experienced its offbeat narrative demands. It's nice that the Academy didn't play it 100% safe in this category. Here's hoping they take the risk to its ultimate aims.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
What will win: Toy Story 3
What SHOULD win: Toy Story 3
Dragon was an unexpected delight, and The Illusionist reminds us of how much a real magician Jacques Tati really was. But Pixar practically owns this category, and this wrap up to the Toy Story trilogy hits all the right beats -- and then some.
What will win: Inside Job
What SHOULD win: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Admit it -- you want to see what UK graffiti sensation Banksy has up his sleeves for Oscar night. He's already been reprimanded by the Academy re: potential appearance hijinx, so a win by Exit would make the anticipation all the sweeter. Still, something inside us all suggests that the deserved winner will be unseated by a more mainstream documentary idea -- the downfall of the world economy. A brazen bit of cinematic pranking (and all the accompanying 'real vs. fake' debating) just can't compete with a global money meltdown. Or can it?