There 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, 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 critics groups (and their complement of acknowledgements) and the seemingly tedious grind toward the red carpet, many of the winners are long predetermined.
So predicting is really no fun. 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 AVATAR!). But for the most part, every piece of the pre-Oscar puzzle leads one to an evening of 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 Hurt Locker
What SHOULD win: Inglourious Basterds/A Serious Man (tie)
Time to drag out the late Jim Jones' least favorite cliché - Tinseltown has truly drunk the Kool-Aid on Kathryn Bigelow's otherwise sensational Iraq War suspense thriller. While it strives to be realistic and authentic, there is still a lot of directorial showboating present, and you can't blame a viewer for getting caught up in its intensity and grit. Locker will also win over the nine other possibilities for one important reason - it remains the first film about the current US situation in the Middle East that doesn't turn the soldiers into repressed homicidal psychopaths. Otherwise, Tarantino or the Coens deserve it for once again proving their unfathomable cinematic brilliance - though ex-hubby James Cameron and his bountiful blue people could still play spoiler.
Who will win: Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Who SHOULD win: James Cameron - Avatar
Bigelow gets it because of history, her actually efforts, and the notion that no right thinking LA PC thug would be caught dead voting against her. While Locker does have its Master of Suspense moments, Cameron is our pick, if only because it takes imagination the size of his already elephantine ego to bring such a speculative epic to life. Sure, you can argue all you want about the computer doing most of the dirty work, but at the end of the day, someone had to guide the production in the visual direction required - and that was all Cameron. In a year where each one will definitely leave their mark, it's destined to be gender over genius.
Who will win: Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
Who SHOULD win: George Clooney - Up in the Air
A real tough call here. Bridges' Tender Mercies lite turn will be his lifetime achievement (though a quick perusal of his resume indicates a less than stellar set of projects to champion), but it was Clooney who really took risks this year. All staring at goats aside, he allowed his Gary Grant meets Clark Gable demeanor to be tarnished by a role that required him to be rejected and reflective about it at the same time. Anyone can play drunk and disheveled. It takes real talent to turn a graceful machismo into something sensitive and pathetic, and that's Ryan Bingham.
Who will win: Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Who SHOULD win: Gabourey Sidibe - Precious: Based on the Novel `Push’ by Sapphire
Call it the Helen Hunt/Gwyneth Paltrow - It Girl Syndrome, but it seems like, every once in a while, Oscar bypasses talent to treat one of its commercial darlings to a 'one and done' awards night honor. Apparently it's Ms. Bullock's turn. On the other hand, watching Ms. Sidibe over the last few weeks as she makes the Academy junket circuit really illustrates how much of an amazing acting turn she delivered playing a disenfranchised and abused ghetto teen. It anyone should rain on the Queen of the Crappy RomCom's parade, it should be someone so 'Precious'. On the other hand, don't count out a dead ringer Julia Childs Streep either.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
Who SHOULD win: Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Mo’Nique - Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Who SHOULD win: Mo’Nique - Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
We've said it before, and we'll say it again - if these actors don't win these respective awards, it's time to revolt! The possible spoilers in each thespian stew? Well, for Waltz, it's octogenarian Christopher Plummer, who delivered two devastating performances this year. As for Ms. Mo'Nique, she better be on the look out for…Heck, who are we kidding. Anyone other than her clearly bought (or slept her way) to a win.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who will win: Mark Boal - The Hurt Locker
Who SHOULD win: Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who will win: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner - Up in the Air
Who SHOULD win: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche - In the Loop
The Writers Guild of America gave our two predicted efforts their highest honor earlier this month, so unless a fluke occurs in the balloting, we'll see a return trip for each up to Oscar's pitched podium. Of course, Boal did find a new and novel way to rework the perils of the Iraq War, but Tarantino dared to rewrite history itself - and delivered a defining moment in his career. And no disservice to Reitman and Turner, but the curse-laden glories of In the Loop trumps their timely economic crisis comedy every time.
BEST FOREIGN FILM
What will win: The White Ribbon
What SHOULD win: The White Ribbon
Not even close. While we are sure some nonentity will step in and spoil Michael Haenke's Oscar night, there really is no question that his White Ribbon is this year's best, most brilliant foreign film. Even months after visiting it for the first time, its many moral (and narrative) ambiguities remain steadfast in your mind. From the beautiful monochrome cinematography to the perverse message buried within the turn of the century German history lesson, this more than makes up for the lamentably lousy Funny Games a few years back.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
What will win: Up
What SHOULD win: Coraline
As a sucker for stop motion, it would be grand to see Henry Selick whip up on Pixar and pick up his first Academy Award (can you believe it is his first NOMINATION as well???). Besides, Coraline was so visually striking and imaginative that, even outside of the standard House of Mouse domination, it should win some kind of special recognition. Alas, we are bound to see the same old suspects walking up to receive their accolades. Up definitely deserves it - the opening marriage to melancholy montage is so brilliant it defies a single significant award - but in a year when so many special films have found their way onto the otherwise over-commercialized medium, choosing just one seems insensitive.
What will win: The Cove
What SHOULD win: The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
The Cove will carry the day if for no other reason than its reactionary, tree-huggermuggering. It's got noble intentions written all over its dead dolphin designs. No one is questioning the importance of the topic area - many foreign countries get away with far worse atrocities toward nature - but in a year which saw such stellar fact films like Anvil: The Story of Anvil and We Live in Public get snubbed outright, seeing something succeed because of inherent shock and sensationalized presentation reeks of pro-PC politicking. That's why we'll go with a bit of history long since forgotten by the nu-media mindset. Like the title says, many found this early era whistleblower to be as deadly as a terrorist attack. Today, he might even be seen as an Anti-American subversive. How times and tastes have changed.