The 84th Annual Academy Awards – the night when Hollywood takes the Super Bowl, Christmas and campaign season, rolls them all into a ball and spray-paints it gold – is coming live this Sunday, Feb. 27. All the talk has been about the return of beloved Oscar host Billy Crystal, but what about the actual movies up for golden statues?
"The Artist" has been storming through awards shows all across the globe since its triumphant unveiling at Cannes last summer. But will the momentum hold? Will a French silent film shot in black-and-white really dominate the 2012 Oscars? Let's take a look at the biggest categories and see who we think will take home what prize – and who should.
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"
Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"
Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"
Will win: Michel Hazanavicius
Should win: Michel Hazanavicius
Setting aside for a moment the fact that Tomas Alfredson ("Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy") and Nicholas Winding Refn ("Drive") got totally stiffed, Hazanavicius made a gorgeous and engaging film with one had tied behind his back. That said, if it weren't for the dinosaurs and Sean Penn's furrowed brow, Malick would be walking away with this thing.
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George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"
Gary Oldman, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Demian Bichir, "A Better Life"
Will win: George Clooney
Should win: Gary Oldman
By our count, Clooney has already been named Best Actor by seven awards bodies and was nominated by seven others – people have gone goofy for him in a role and film that left us completely cold. Dujardin's rubber face can say more with a twitch than a lot of guys can get out of their entire bodies, but Oldman commanded every scene of "Tinker' with a stony silence that hid a furiously working mind.
Viola Davis, "The Help"
Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"
Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Rooney Mara, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"
Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"
Will win: Viola Davis
Should win: Viola Davis
It almost feels like a fait accompli that this one is going to Streep, but for all her Oscar nominations, she hasn't won in 29 years – and her film was both a commercial and critical dud. Davis, meanwhile, hits a couple of Oscar sweet spots with "The Help," as both a pro-Civil Rights film and a box-office monster. Throw in a gifted actress who's long overdue for some recognition, and you've got a recipe for victory.
Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
Kenneth Branagh, "My Week With Marilyn"
Jonah Hill, "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte, "Warrior"
Max Von Sydow, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
Will win: Christopher Plummer
Should win: Christopher Plummer
Where's Albert Brooks? In 1986, after 50 years in Hollywood, Don Ameche won Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Cocoon," as the Academy suddenly realized that the man was reaching the end and had never won an Oscar. Plummer is the new Ameche, the difference being that he gave a brilliant turn in an excellent film.
Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
Bérénice Bejo, "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain, "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"
Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"
Will win: Octavia Spencer
Should win: Octavia Spencer
Without Spencer's relentless ferocity, "The Help" would've been little more than a tired and maudlin affair brimming with self-importance.
Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo, "Bridesmaids"
JC Chandor, "Margin Call"
Asghar Farhadi, "A Separation"
Will win: Woody Allen
Should win: Woody Allen
"The Artist" had no dialogue, "Bridesmaids" wasn't that funny, the rest of "Margin Call" didn’t live up to the script (though we liked the film) and "A Separation" isn't even in English! Also, Allen delivered his best film in 20 years, a hilarious poke in the eye to wearying nostalgia buffs everywhere.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne & Jim Rash, "The Descendants"
Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian, "Moneyball"
John Logan, "Hugo"
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, "Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy"
George Clooney & Grant Heslov, "The Ides of March"
Will win: Faxon/Payne/Rash
Should win: Sorkin/Zaillian
The screenplay prizes are the Academy's favorite way to throw a bone to the films they lack the courage to name Best Picture, so Payne and friends will take the statue. But Sorkin and Zaillian somehow managed to take a book that is essentially a business seminar packed with statistical analyses of baseball players and turn it into an engaging underdog story that managed to pull in non-baseball fans without angering people who loved the book (Hello!).
Best Animated Feature
"Puss in Boots"
"Kung Fu Panda 2"
"A Cat in Paris”
"Chico & Rita"
Will win: "Rango"
Should win: "Rango"
"Rango," writer-director Gore Verbinski's tale of a chameleon undergoing an identity crisis (voiced by Johnny Depp), was a smart and funny homage to old Hollywood that felt fresher than any non-Pixar cartoon in a long time.
Best Costume Design
"The Artist," Mark Bridges
"Jane Eyre," Michael O'Connor
"Hugo," Sandy Powell
"W.E.," Arianne Phillips
"Anonymous," Lisy Christl
For this one we turned to our colleague Laural Pinson of The Thread for her expert opinion:
Will win: "Anonymous"
Should win: "Jane Eyre"
This is that rare category in which a film's critical reception has no bearing on its chances of winning, as not since "The Aviator" in 2004 has a Best Picture nominee won Best Costume Design. The Academy tends to favor period pieces (wouldn’t it be nice if the Academy were to nominate a contemporary film in this category?), the showier the better. While “The Artist” deserves mention if only for creating a vivid textural palette in black-and-white, the real battle is between “Jane Eyre” and “Anonymous.” While the attention to detail in “Jane Eyre” is staggering, from the undergarments to the slightly worn approach to the characters’ attire, the fact of the matter is British royal dramas and epically ridiculous collars have dominated this award of late: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” “The Young Victoria,” and “The Duchess” and last year’s “Alice in Wonderland."
"Midnight in Paris"
"The Tree of Life"
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
Will win: "The Artist"
Should win: "Tree of Life"
"The Artist" has too much momentum to be stopped, having dominated the BAFTA awards, the Golden Globes and a other dozen ceremonies, and it's the kind of film the Academy loves, brimming with its love of old Hollywood, song-and-dance numbers, the French… Remember, the average Academy voter is old enough to have grown up watching black-and-white silent films and not sneering at cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
Think you can do better? Want to have a friendly contest with your friends? Print out our 2012 Oscar ballot, covering all 24 categories and two tie-breaker questions.