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Tonight’s Oscar Winners: A Cheat Sheet [DB]

ROTI’s top gun when it comes to awards season, DB, is back to predict the winners of tonight’s ceremony. You always can find his work at his own site, I-am-DB.com, where this article premiered on Friday. After you get done trouncing everyone at your Oscars party picks contest by relying upon DB’s prognostications, I highly recommend you add his intelligent stylings to your bookmarks bar or RSS feed, like, pronto. 

Alright, we’re two days from the big night and it’s time to lay the cards on the table. As usual, the outcome of some categories seems set in stone, while others still have some suspense going for them. Other Oscar pundits are saying that all but two or three categories are completely sewn up, yet it’s never as cut and dry as they’d like to claim it is. There are always more races that could fall in different ways than anybody ever seems willing to admit. Which are which this year? Let us see…

BEST PICTURE

When the Academy announced last summer that they were reconfiguring the Best Picture competition such that the number of nominees would fall somewhere between a minimum of five films and a maximum of ten, they pointed out that they applied the calculation model to the previous ten years worth of ballots and found that some years would still have yielded only five nominees, while others would have seen six, seven, eight or nine make the list. Considering that this was a somewhat underwhelming year for movies, most pundits were expecting seven, maybe eight. But we got nine. And now that the ceremony is upon us, there’s only one being talked about. With the full muscle of Oscar maestro Harvey Weinstein behind it, The Artist is the film to beat on Oscar night. It collected plenty of critics awards during the season, and its standing was affirmed by wins from the Producers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) and its win for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) at the Golden Globes. Some might argue that The Help has a chance as well, based on its three wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the fact that it’s the most commercially successful film of the bunch. It clearly has the love of actors – the largest voting block within the Academy – but that won’t be enough to carry it all the way, especially when it missed out on key nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Editing. The only nominees that might surprise are The Descendants and Hugo, but The Artist is the movie that seems to be making everyone and their mother feel that special feeling. As a paean to the early days of Hollywood and the magic of moviemaking, I think Hugo is a more successful film, and certainly one with more depth than The Artist. But by this point the silent charmer’s victory seems assured. And I suppose it’s nice that the movie was made without any aspirations for awards whatsoever. It’s a small film made from a place of love and affection, whose entire creative team has been genuinely overwhelmed by the outpouring of acclaim. That’s kinda nice.

Prediction: The Artist
 

Personal Choice: None of the nine movies truly captured my heart, but Moneyball is the one that most closely meets my barometer for what a Best Picture winner should be.

BEST DIRECTOR

This award, of course, usually goes hand in hand with Best Picture. I don’t imagine this year will see a split, despite some saying that Scorsese may win his second. The legendary lion did take the Golden Globe, but the better indicator is the DGA award, and that went to Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist. I expect the Academy will follow suit.

Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius 

Personal Choice: The Tree of Life is too imperfect to deserve Best Picture, but in this category I’m less inclined to fault a movie’s flaws than I am to reward a director with vision and ambition. In that respect, none of this year’s nominees can match Terrence Malick.

BEST ACTOR

A category that was looking reasonably predictable in mid-January is much more in flux now. George Clooney had been out ahead, but Jean Dujardin has closed in tight. Not only did he snag trophies from SAG and BAFTA (both of which share some members with the Academy), but he’s kept visible these last couple of weeks with an amusing Funny or Die video in which he auditions for the villain role in a number of high-profile franchises, as well as a cameo in an Artist-inspired, French-themed Saturday Night Live sketch. Clooney and Dujardin are both charmers who would be enjoyable at the microphone, so no help determining who has the edge on that score. And even with the two of them seemingly neck and neck, this is the category that feels to me most poised for an upset. Brad Pitt stars in two Best Picture nominees, did great – many have said career-best – work in both of them, and has continually pushed himself as an actor. The personal investment he had in getting Moneyball made and the struggles he endured in doing so were well documented, and they add a nice, emotional narrative to his nomination. Toss in his charity work and general good humor and graciousness, and I think he could pull off a surprise victory. Gary Oldman is a longer shot, but some voters may want to reward him for an incredible career thus far. As for Demián Bichir, his nomination and the attention it brings to a film that puts the complex immigration issue in a personal light will be the extent of his reward. (An essay by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas about the importance of Bichir’s film and his nomination was published recently in Entertainment Weekly.) So…Dujardin’s victory in the more recent contests may tip the scales in his favor, making him the smart bet. But whether it’s because my gut tells me Clooney has broader support, or because I personally don’t see Dujardin’s performance as Oscar-caliber (not that personal feelings should ever govern these picks) or because I’m an idiot…I’m sticking with Clooney for the win.

Prediction: George Clooney

Personal Choice: Again, there’s nothing here that I can passionately go to bat for, but I was probably most affected by Bichir’s performance. And if Pitt somehow takes it, I’ll be all smiles.

BEST ACTRESS

This year, it’s the Best Actress category that best exemplifies the change of winds that can occur between the first half of the awards season – dominated by the regional critics awards – and the second half of the season, where the guilds, Golden Globes and national critics awards (mainly the Broadcast Film Critics Association prizes) are handed out. The first half of the season indicated that Michelle Williams was the force to be reckoned with for her impressive take on Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. But it only takes a few key events to change the course the race; it’s down to Meryl Streep and Viola Davis now. Davis took the awards from SAG and the BFCA, while Streep won the BAFTA award and the Golden Globe (for a drama; Williams won the musical/comedy Globe). So this thing is pretty evenly split.

Streep gives another great performance (no surprise), especially in her many scenes as the elderly Margaret Thatcher. This is her record 17th nomination, and she hasn’t won since 1982; she’s lost the last 12 times. The Hollywood community has undying adoration and reverence for her, and whenever she wins an award at another event (and she’s won many in the last decade alone), she’s always funny and down to earth. The crowd loves seeing her up there. But they always know that Meryl Streep will be back within a couple of years and they’ll have another chance. The same can’t be said for Viola Davis, who will have a much harder time finding another lead role that could put her back in the Oscar race anytime soon. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way the industry works. Davis is a wonderful actress who has earned the love and respect of many filmmakers over the years, but the opportunities for her to play rich leading roles are few and far between. She might not have even gotten the part in The Help if it hadn’t been for 2008′s Doubt, which earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination for just two scenes (both opposite Streep). Davis has given heartfelt and moving speeches at her other wins this season, and her peers seem thrilled that she’s finally getting her moment to shine. And lest we forget, she’s excellent in The Help as a maid weary from years of service and dehumanization. She carries it in every step she takes, suggesting so much more internally than she ever has the chance to say out loud. Meryl Streep’s time could be upon us again, but it feels more like Davis’ moment…and I’d wager that even Streep is voting for her.

Prediction: Viola Davis

Personal Choice: Streep is overdue for Oscar #3, and she rocks it in The Iron Lady, but I’m rooting for Davis. I’d be fine with Williams too. She’s terrific in a part that seems so unlikely for her. It’s easy to imagine Meryl Streep will hit a bullseye playing Margaret Thatcher. It’s harder to imagine Michelle Williams hitting a bullseye as Marilyn Monroe, but she absolutely does.

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