So we arrive at the moment of truth. Five months worth of speculating about who's going to be nominated and then who is going to win it all has come down to this Sunday. Has the race changed enough to really shake-up expectations anywhere? Will any of us have the guts to pull the trigger on a surprise victory and risk looking like a fool? While people will be having fun at their Oscar pools double-checking precisely what cinematography means, the Oscar bloggers and awards "experts" will be sweating six ways from Sunday on being the best-of-the-best while hoping to at least be satisfied that some of their personal favorites have their names read. Some of us rely on numbers and history. Others try to sell that talking to a handful of voters in Los Angeles suggests the overriding taste of the entire Academy. But in any sideline competition, it will come down to our guts ... as well as who can correctly predict the short film categories.
THE ACTING CATEGORIES ARE ALL BUT INKED
Particularly the supporting ones. Since the inception of the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 1994, when they have matched the winner of the Golden Globe for Supporting Actor, the recipient won the Oscar 6-out-of-7 times. For Supporting Actress? 8-out-of-9 times. Eddie Murphy and Lauren Bacall were the odd folks out, victims of an English Patient drubbing and a Norbit release. Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer seem pretty safe. When I wrote earlier in this column that the winner of the SAG for Best Actress would likely decide the race, I meant it and am sticking to it. People don't seem all too enthused about The Iron Lady and apparently it's just not Michelle Williams' time, though she, far and away, gave the best performance (male or female) of the year. If anyone thought Glenn Close finally winning with her sixth nomination or Streep winning for the first time in 30 years was a headline grabber, how does two African-American women winning in the same year grab you? 12-of-17 of SAG's Best Actress picks won the Oscar. Viola Davis should make it lucky 13.
TECHNICAL CATEGORIES: WHEN IN DOUBT, VOTE HUGO
Martin Scorsese's film leads all films with 11 nominations, only cementing my claim to it being the most over-praised film of 2011. Personal feelings aside, its technical merits are inarguably impressive and should be able to claim two, maybe three of its eight tech nods. Art Direction and Costumes seem to have the best odds. Score and Editing would appear to have the worst with likely victories from The Artist. Visual Effects is a pretty loaded category. Transformers has actually not won this category to date, and until they stop announcing new installments it may never. This will be their chance to honor the Apes. If anything is going to upset five-time nominee Emmanuel Lubezki (who has never won) and The Tree of Life for Cinematography it is likely to be Guillaume Schiffman (The Artist) and not 7-time nominee and 2-time winner Robert Richardson. That leaves the two Sound categories.
The Cinema Audio Society gave their Sound Mixing prize to Hugo, but in their previous 18 years have only matched Oscar 50% of the time. Here's the rub, though: The nine times the Oscar parted company with the CAS winner, they were nevertheless still a CAS nominee. This year, that only applies to two films - Hugo and Moneyball. One has baseballs being hit and Brad Pitt wrecking stuff in anger. The other has a train crash. No offense to some great sound work in Moneyball, but what is the safer bet here? As for the Sound Editing Oscar, one must consider either going with a film that grossed over $200 million or the war film. That means either Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a franchise that still has not won an Oscar to date, or Steven Spielberg. Run with the War Horse.
- Any other film than Rango winning Best Animated Feature is a flat-out joke.
- Sergio Mendes can not walk down the street in South America (according to sources Newman & Kramer), but if he walks out Sunday with an Oscar instead of Bret McKenzie for "Man or Muppet," the Academy will have embarrassed themselves even more than only nominating two songs and not even letting the Muppets sing live with Jason Segel.
- The Harry Potter series could end their 8-films-over-11-years run with a token Academy Award for Best Makeup, its only victory after getting a grand total of 12 nominations.
- A bit surprised that there seems to be doubt in the Documentary category. What is the greater feel-good story? The success of an anonymous high school football team in Undefeated, or the decade-long struggle to correct the injustice of the West Memphis Three? Neither of the first two Paradise Lost films were up for Oscars. Paradise Lost 3 should take it to honor the whole endeavor.
- Those thinking that A Separation is a slam-dunk in the Foreign Language category may want to take slight pause in marking that box. In just my own lifetime since 1975, there have been 10 films nominated here that were also up for Best Original Screenplay like Asghar Farhadi's film. Though none of them won the writing Oscar (thus slamming the door on my potential hunch that A Separation could), only five actually won the Foreign Oscar (Amarcord, Fanny and Alexander, The Official Story, Life Is Beautiful, The Barbarian Invasions). All coming up with neither award were Cousin, cousine; Seven Beauties; Au revoir, les enfants; Amélie and Pan's Labyrinth. OK, now that we got that fact out of the way, go ahead and resume marking A Separation for Foreign Film.
HOW MANY WILL THE ARTIST WIN?
We have been saying for weeks and even before the nominations that it is the year of The Artist. Haters of old and backlashers of new should also be prepared that the film will walk away with at least five trophies on Sunday night. The final number appears to be either 5 or 6 and it is the majority of these potential wins that are likely to have the closest battles. Original Score and, yes, Best Picture seem to be no-brainers at this point. The American Cinema Editors have a 10-year winning streak in seeing one of their winners go on to win the Oscar. This year they awarded The Artist and The Descendants. Since 1975, only 17-of-36 winners of Best Editing also won Best Picture. The Artist should make it three out of the last four.
Fans of The Descendants can likely take solace in that it seems in position to win for Adapted Screenplay (even if Moneyball deserves it.) Six of the last seven Writers Guild winners and 25-of-the-last-35 have won the Oscar. (Hopefully Jim Rash can sneak in a "Go Community!" shout-out during the acceptance speech.) As for Original Screenplay, this is the category that has kept me up nights. The tide had seemed to shift towards Woody Allen winning his third screenwriting Oscar for Midnight In Paris. Then I started to think about The Artist, which was disqualified from being a part of the WGA festivities. Spin it anyway you want, 26 of the last 36, 10 of the last 13, 6-in-a-row, Best Picture also has a good shot at one of the Screenplay awards. Of course, a win for The Artist here would mean that Michel Hazanavicius could walk home with three trophies on the night. Consider this also: The last time a solo writer-director won both awards without any collaboration on either side was James L. Brooks for Terms of Endearment in 1983. The writing-directing Oscar combo has also only happened five times since the last time any writer-director (collaboration or not) won Director and Original Screenplay. That was Woody Allen for Annie Hall in 1977. Thinking Woody may win at least one of those awards on Sunday.
And it will not be for Best Director. The rallying criers against The Artist like to point to this category to bemoan the idea that Hazanavicius could be walking away with the award despite the competition of legends like Scorsese, Allen and Terrence Malick - not to forget Alexander Payne - in just his first nomination. Play that residual Tom Hooper fatigue card as reasoning to bet against him all you want, but the Directors Guild numbers are what they are and it keeps getting harder to bet against. 58-of-64 DGA winners having won the Oscar. That's over 90%, and they went with Hazanavicius for 2011. Some like to think Scorsese could pull one out here, but I am more of the idea that if there is to be one big shocking upset on Oscar night, it will be Terrence Malick being honored in a lifetime achievement kind of way for The Tree of Life, much the same way Roman Polanski was for The Pianist back in 2002 (when everyone thought Scorsese was finally going to get it for Gangs of New York). Hazanavicius already appears a lock for an Editing Oscar. Just how far will the Academy spread the wealth? Not enough for this gamblin' man.
Finally, in what may be the closest Best Actor race since the Sean Penn/Mickey Rourke battle of '08, we are looking at George Clooney vs. Jean Dujardin. Clooney had all the markings of a frontrunner winning the BFCA and Globe until Dujardin snatched up the SAG award. Of all their awards, the category with the best record for matching up with Oscar is Best Actor. 13-of-17 times, including the last seven. SAG's only four misses came between 2000-2003. They were perfect from 1994-99 and 2004-present. It's a close call, but Dujardin will likely be the third of The Artist's five victories on Oscar night.
FINAL 2011 OSCAR PREDICTIONS
PICTURE: "The Artist"
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius "The Artist"
ACTOR: Jean Dujardin "The Artist"
ACTRESS: Viola Davis "The Help"
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer "Beginners"
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer "The Help"
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Woody Allen "Midnight In Paris"
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash "The Descendants"
ANIMATED FEATURE: "Rango"
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "A Separation"
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki "The Tree of Life"
EDITING: Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius "The Artist"
ART DIRECTION: Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo "Hugo"
COSTUME DESIGN: Sandy Powell "Hugo"
ORIGINAL SCORE: Ludovic Bource "The Artist"
ORIGINAL SONG: Bret McKenzie - Man Or Muppet "The Muppets"
VISUAL EFFECTS: Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, and Daniel Barrett "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
MAKEUP: Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, and Lisa Tomblin "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2"
SOUND MIXING: Tom Fleischman and John Midgley "Hugo"
SOUND EDITING: Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom "War Horse"
ANIMATED SHORT FILM: "La Luna"
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: "The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement"
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: "Time Freak"