Our Oscar expert Steve Pond tells us who is going to win Academy Awards on Sunday — and who really ought to
"The Artist" will win six Oscars, "Hugo" will take home four, and "The Help" will land two of the four acting awards.
And the film I picked to win it all back in early September, "The Descendants," will have to settle for a single win for its screenplay.
With Oscar ballots due back at PricewaterhouseCoopers by the end of the day on Tuesday, those are my best guesses as to what Academy voters will do. It's a year where lots of big categories seem all but locked up, but also a year with confounding races in a number of categories.
I suspect that anybody scoring in the high teens (out of 24 categories) will do very well in the Oscar pool.
Also read: 2012 Oscars: Complete List of Nominees
Here are my predictions, in the order in which they appear on the Oscar ballot. I've also indicated who I'd pick if I had an Oscar vote.
Prediction: "The Artist"
Is there any doubt? The black-and-white silent film seemed utterly charming and a little slight when it debuted at Cannes – but in ensuing months Oscar voters found movies to like, but nothing to love enough to woo them away from the delightful novelty.
"The Descendants" has rallied in recent days, but it's probably too little too late; "Hugo" has Martin Scorsese but may be too divisive to win; and "The Help" has the actors but no other Academy branch in its corner. "The Artist" gets its happy ending and barely breaks a sweat in the process.
My vote: "The Tree of Life"
Terrence Malick's confounding epic, both personal and cosmic, was my favorite movie of the year, so I'd rank it first on my ballot even though I know that vote would end up going to my second choice, "Hugo," as ballots were redistributed. "The Descendants," "Midnight in Paris" and "Moneyball" follow, in that order.
(Right: my rankings, on a facsimile Oscar ballot.)
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Prediction: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
This one is close, and George Clooney ("The Descendants") has the advantage of being a very popular guy who represents the best chance to derail the "Artist" express. But the die was cast with the SAG win by Dujardin – who, the Academy can be relatively certain, will not act like an imbecile the way Roberto Benigni did when he won Best Actor in 1999.
My vote: Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
He'd get my vote partly for the marvelous subtlety of his performance – conveying brilliance and total command with barely a raised eyebrow – and partly for a career that has deserved far more nominations than just this one.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Prediction: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
Despite the real affection for Max von Sydow that has surfaced late in the race, Plummer's is a faux-lifetime-achievement award the Academy can feel good about – because he also happens to be funny and heartbreaking in a very good movie.
My vote: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
I love von Sydow too, but Plummer has the more substantial role and makes the most of it. Nick Nolte is my runner-up for the woefully overlooked "Warrior."
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Prediction: Viola Davis, "The Help"
The Academy keeps nominating Meryl Streep, and keeps finding reasons to give the award to somebody else. The "it's been 29 years and she's overdue!" campaign could still pull out a Streep victory, but Davis has dominated the precursor awards and been moving and eloquent every time.
My vote: Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"
In a different year, she'd be a front-runner – and just as she would have gotten my vote last year for her raw, brave and small-scale performance in "Blue Valentine," she'd get it this year for her expansive, brave and large-scale inhabitation of Marilyn Monroe.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Prediction: Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
As big a slam dunk as there is on the Oscar ballot, Spencer has won every award so far and shows no signs of vulnerability. Even an "Artist" sweep can't take Berenice Bejo this far.
My vote: Jessica Chastain, "The Help"
I'm not picking her because I thought she was better than Spencer in "The Help," but because I think an amazing year ought to be recognized. So this vote also goes for "Take Shelter" and "The Tree of Life," and to a lesser degree to "Coriolanus" and "The Debt" as well.
It's a very odd year in the animation category, with Pixar absent, DreamWorks represented by a sequel and a spinoff, and two slots going to small European films. So a very odd year deserves, and will get, a very odd winner in Gore Verbinski's absurdist Western.
My vote: "Rango"
It's the funniest, most subversive, most imaginative and most twisted animated feature of the year.
Voters want rich, elaborate and ornate in this category – they want to see every bit of that art direction. You can see so much of it in "Hugo" that it should be an easy winner, although it'd be foolish to underestimate the appeal of "The Artist" in a category like this one.
My vote: "Hugo"
The train station, George Melies' glass studio, the cavernous library … Martin Scorsese's 3D experience was magical partly because of what Dante Ferretti gave him to shoot.
Prediction: "The Artist"
Emmanuel Lubezki's remarkable work on "The Tree of Life" should be as much a shoo-in as his work five years ago on "Children of Men" should have been. But it didn't work out then, and I'm afraid it won't now. The 3D work on "Hugo" could easily carry the day, but I'm guessing that a dazzling black-and-white workout will call enough attention to itself to sway voters.
My vote: "The Tree of Life"
No contest. And I'm still holding out hope that the Academy will agree.
This category is full of conflicting signals. Two of the nominees, "Hugo" and "The Artist," lead the field in total nominations; for the other three – "Anonymous," "Jane Eyre" and "W./E." – this is the sole nomination.
In six of the last 10 years, this category has lined up with Art Direction, where "Hugo" and "The Artist" are the favorites. But all four of the exceptions have cone in the last five years, and all four are ornate period films, like "Anonymous" and "Jane Eyre."
I'm guessing that those last two films just aren't quite memorable enough to win, and that voters tie this to Art Direction and give both awards to "Hugo."
My vote: "Hugo"
If one is to judge by the way that "W./E." dotes on and fetishizes objects, this would seemingly be a more desirable award for Madonna than Best Picture. But I have to give my vote to a movie about people, not surfaces.
Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
At one point, lots of people were predicting a picture/director split, with "The Artist" winning picture but Martin Scorsese taking director. But as Tom Hooper's victory over David Fincher showed last year – and Hazanavicius' DGA win reinforced last month – if they really love your movie, you're going to win this award too.
My vote: Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"
He gets the (very slight) edge over Terrence Malick for brilliantly exploring a format new to him, 3D, and a piece of material very unlike his usual fare.
Prediction: "The Artist"
This award usually goes to the Best Picture winner unless there's another big film with editing flashy enough to wrest it away (as "The Social Network" or "The Bourne Ultimatum" did). Maybe "Hugo" or "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is flashy enough to turn the trick this year, but I don't think so.
My vote: "The Descendants"
The film is a deft balancing act between comedy and drama that sets, and sustains, a delicate tone that could easily collapse is mishandled. Editing is crucial to that accomplishment.
Prediction: "The Iron Lady"
This might be the easiest category to recognize the "Harry Potter" series, which has never won an Oscar before. But I suspect that the old-age makeup in "The Iron Lady" was such a large part of the film, rendering Meryl Streep almost unrecognizable as the aging Margaret Thatcher, that "Potter" will have to console itself with its billions of dollars.
My vote: "The Iron Lady"
"J. Edgar" showed how much damage old-age makeup can do to a film, and a performance. "The Iron Lady" showed how well it could work, even if the film itself wasn't very good.
Prediction: "The Artist"
The logic is simple: If a film doesn't have dialogue or sound effects, its music must be hugely important. Whether or not that perception is true, Ludovic Bource will almost certainly be its beneficiary.
My vote: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Alberto Iglesias's moody, vaguely jazzy, '70s-inflected score sets the tone for the understated spy thriller; like the film, it's subtle but perfectly calibrated.
Prediction: "Man or Muppet"
Voters only have two choices, and both are from movies that Academy members might consider kids' stuff: "The Muppets" and "Rio." Sergio Mendes ("Real in Rio") is a legend, but songwriters' names aren't on the ballot – and in a category where voters have shown pretty good taste in recent years (though you could argue that the nominations are another matter entirely), the priceless way in which "Man or Muppet" is used in the film may give it a narrow edge.
My vote: "Man or Muppet"
It's the best use of a song in any movie of 2011, and a guy from Flight of the Conchords could win an Academy Award. I find that deeply cool.
The two sound categories go to the same film about half the time – but the last time I predicted a split, I got both categories wrong. So I'm sticking with "Hugo," a Best Picture nominee (always a plus) that makes and mixes crowds, steam trains, music and mechanisms to create an all-encompassing environment.
My vote: "Drive"
It should have shown up in more than just this one category. The fact that its sound design was a key element makes it easy to salute it in this one category where it was nominated.
This is the sound category where its victory seems likeliest.
My vote: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
The atmosphere of David Fincher's thriller was so chilly that I felt as if I needed a sweater all day after seeing it, and the sound mix was a huge part of that.
Prediction: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
I thought the Visual Effects category was secure for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" until Gerard Kennedy at In Contention came up with a statistic that argues for "Hugo" instead: "The last time a Best Picture nominee lost this category to a non-Best Picture nominee was 1970, when 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' beat 'Patton.'"
Still, the stat is a little less persuasive when you realize that a Best Picture nominee has only been nominated in this category 13 times in those 40 years. And I'm sticking with another stat: No movie featuring a performance-capture version of Andy Serkis (i.e., "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and "King Kong") has ever lost in this category.
My vote: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
No movie featuring a performance-capture version of Andy Serkis has ever deserved to lose in this category.
Prediction: "The Descendants"
Particularly after its recent wins at the WGA and Scripter Awards, Alexander Payne's touching blend of comedy and drama seems poised to occupy the same slot that "Juno," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Lost in Translation" and Payne's own "Sideways" did – i.e., the respected indie that wins a writing award but falls short in Best Picture.
My vote: "Moneyball"
For taking a completely unfilmable book and turning it into a very good movie – and in the process, eliminating most (if not all) of the problems that this baseball fanatic had with the material.
Prediction: "Midnight in Paris"
"The Artist" could very well steamroll through this category on its way to a dominating Oscar night, but I think the temptation to reward Woody Allen for the top-grossing movie of his career will prove irresistible. Besides, it's got lots more words than "The Artist."
My vote: "Midnight in Paris"
Yes, "A Separation" probably deserves it, but I find the temptation to reward Woody Allen irresistible too, for Ernest Hemingway's dialogue alone.
In many ways, this is the single most confusing category. I'm going with "Undefeated" over "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" and "Pina" because in a category in which voters must see all five nominees in a theater before voting, "Undefeated" is the film that packs the strongest emotional punch.
My vote: "Pina"
Wim Wenders' modern-dance documentary is an odd hybrid, part doc and part performance art – but as a longtime fan of Pina Baush, I found it one of the year's most original and exhilarating cinematic experiences.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Prediction: "Saving Face"
Some of the smart money is going to "God Is the Bigger Elvis," about an actress (and Academy member) who became a nun. But almost invariably, the doc-short winner is the film that leaves viewers with hope – which to me means either "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" or this look at acid attacks on women in Pakistan, which isn't as arresting a piece of filmmaking but which has the awful-problem/but-there's-hope dynamic that voters like.
My vote: "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"
I found this look at the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan, and the promise of renewal provide by fragile flowers, to be by far the most artfully made, lyrical and moving of the nominees.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Prediction: "A Separation"
Despite the way "A Separation" has dominated awards season, an upset is extremely possible, with both "In Darkness" and "Monsieur Lazhar" potentially helping the emotional beat the cerebral. But if even Golden Globes voters can recognize the excellence of "A Separation," Oscar voters probably will as well.
My vote: "A Separation"
In a strong lineup, it is the clear choice. (But if "The Turin Horse" had been nominated, I would have voted for that.)
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Prediction: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
The directorial debut of children's author William Joyce is long, languid and touching, while "A Morning Stroll" is punchy and blackly comic. Despite the win for "Logorama" two years ago, voters in the category typically prefer touching.
My vote: "Wild Life"
It stands alongside "Morris Lessmore" as the longest and most ambitious nominee – and particularly on the big screen, this painterly tale of a hapless English settler in Canada is rich and weird, with odd little touches that make it stand out.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Prediction: "Tuba Atlantic"
The two shortest nominees are one-joke exercises without the style of past one-joke winners, so I think this one comes down to the three longer films: "Raju," "The Shore" and "Tuba Atlantic." "Tuba" already beat "Raju" at the student Oscars, and I think it has the blend of heart and humor to win here as well – although on the big screen, where voters had to watch these films, Terry George's "The Shore," shot by "Albert Nobbs" cinematographer Michael McDonough, looks richer and more substantial (if also subtler) than the competition.
My vote: "The Shore"
It doesn't need a jarring, slapstick horseback sequence, but "Hotel Rwanda" director George's gentle slice of life in Northern Ireland is a quiet, subtle meditation on regret, remembrance and the reverberations of that country's troubles.