by Raj Ranade
If you're not a reader of Hollywood trade weeklies, you are A) a better-adjusted human being than I, and B) probably unaware of how much studio advertising programs resemble political campaigns. There's the For Your Consideration banners littering every spare inch of magazine ad space, the snide whispers that get passed around about nominees ("The Artist isn't important enough", "George Clooney has won enough Oscars already", "Woody Allen won't even show up to the ceremony"), and the many decision-making criteria that have little to do with the real issues (i.e. the quality of the movies).
But Oscar fans can rejoice this year, because all those politics have played out in a way that should make this year's show thrillingly unpredictable. Here's a lowdown on the big races and my Guaranteed-To-Maybe-Possibly-Help-You-Win-Your-Oscar-Pool predictions. I went 17/24 last year (albeit in a much less contentious set of races) - on Oscar night, follow @AceWeekly on Twitter as I live-tweet the show, so you can mock me/bow to my supernatural foresight in real time!
Best Picture: The Artist (40%), Hugo (25%), The Descendants (25%), The Help (10%), Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseThe Artist is basically the Mitt Romney of this race. It's won almost every contest it's participated in, but no one (neither critics nor audiences, judging from its anemic box office) seems to like it all that much. Its awards from the Golden Globes and various critical and industry groups still make it the clear front-runner, but Hugo has the most nominations this year, indicating strong Academy support. Meanwhile, The Descendants out-grossed both those films and picked up a handful of important awards at the Golden Globes itself. And The Help is the only bona-fide box office hit out of these nominees, even if its relative lack of nominations makes it an unlikely winner. I'm still betting on the silent French film, but a spoiler could easily emerge.
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist (50%), Martin Scorsese - Hugo (25%), Alexander Payne - The Descendants (25%), Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris, Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
This race is a little more clear-cut. While Hazanavicius, Scorsese, and Payne have split previous awards, Scorsese and Payne have already won Oscars, and the Academy tends to lean towards new winners. Another interesting question - will Allen or Malick even show up? Even though he's received 23 Oscar nominations, Woody has showed up to the Oscars exactly once, while Malick (who probably made the best movie out of this group) is a notorious hermit.
Best Actress: Viola Davis - The Help (60%), Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady (20%), Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn (20%), Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs, Rooney Mara - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Michelle Williams is the critical darling of this bunch, and Meryl Streep was a surprise winner at the Golden Globes, but voters will want to reward a hit as big as The Help in some category, and the movie's sweep at the Screen Actors Guild Awards indicates that Davis' performance will be the one they're most likely to rally around. But never count out a seventeen-time nominee like Meryl!
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer - The Help (50%), Jessica Chastain - The Help (30%), Berenice Bejo - The Artist (20%), Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids, Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
As the SAG Awards showed, The Help will also be taking this category. But will voters be focused solely on the performances, or will they want to reward Jessica Chastain for her impressive body of work last year (which also included - deep breath - Tree of Life, Coriolanus, Texas Killing Fields, Wilde Salome, The Debt, and Take Shelter). A note for show-watchers: if Berenice Bejo wins here, you may want to go double-or-nothing on your Artist Best Picture bet.
Best Actor: George Clooney - The Descendants (35%), Jean Dujardin - The Artist (35%), Brad Pitt - Moneyball (30%), Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Demian Bechir - A Better Life
The biggest nail-biter of the evening pits Dujardin's foreign newcomer against maybe the two biggest movie stars on the planet. But he and Clooney are neck-and-neck in other awards shows this year. And while Pitt hasn't taken any major awards home this season, he has the all-important combination of being a Hollywood legend who has also never won. I'm going to stick with Clooney if only because his performance is the best of the three (although Gary Oldman's masterful work in Tinker Tailor trumps them all, even if he has no chance of winning).
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer - Beginners (90%), Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn (5%), Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (5%), Nick Nolte - Warrior, Jonah Hill - Moneyball
The one big lock of the evening is Christopher Plummer taking home an award for his performance as an elderly dad coming out of the closet in Beginners. The performance is great, but more importantly, this 82-year-old acting legend has never won an Oscar, and voters will likely want to pay tribute. The only unlikely spoiler is if voters decide to honor Sydow or Branagh, two other aging legends who have never won before.
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris (50%), The Artist (25%), A Separation (25%), Bridesmaids, Margin Call
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants (60%), Moneyball (30%), Hugo (10%), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Ides of March
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation (60%), In Darkness (40%), Footnote, Monsieur Lazhar, Bullhead
Best Animated Feature: Rango (90%), Chico & Rita (10%)
Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life (40%) The Artist (20%), Hugo (20%), War Horse (20%),
Best Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (50%), Pina (30%), To Hell and Back (20%)
Best Costume Design: Hugo (40%), The Artist (30%), Jane Eyre (20%)
Best Art Direction: Hugo (60%), The Artist (20%), Harry Potter (20%)
Editing: Hugo (50%), The Artist (25%), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (25%)
Sound Mixing: Hugo (50%), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (25%), War Horse (25%)
Sound Editing: War Horse (50%), Hugo (25%), Drive (25%)
Make-Up: The Iron Lady (90%), Albert Nobbs (5%), Harry Potter (5%)
Score: The Artist (50%), Hugo (30%), War Horse (20%)
Original Song: The Muppets (90%), Rio (10%)
Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (90%), Harry Potter (10%)