The polls are closing. Ballots are due in. And I figure it's time to take my ballot, fill it out, and share the results.
Of course, mine says "FACSIMILE FINAL BALLOT" on the front, which means it doesn't count and PricewaterhouseCoopers doesn't want it. But I've now seen every single film nominated in all 24 categories, and I'd hate to think I did all that work for nothing. ("Salt" was the final one – thanks, sound branch.)
So here's how I'd fill out my Oscar ballot.
Best Picture: "Black Swan"
Of the Best Picture nominees, my favorite is Darren Aronofsky's audacious, thrilling horror melodrama. So on my Best Pic ballot, where you're asked to rank all the nominees, that's number one.
Of course, it's extremely unlikely that a vote for "Black Swan" will stay there. The way the preferential ballot works, my vote would likely go in the "Black Swan" pile for the first few rounds of counting – but at a certain point, that film would end up with the fewest number of votes, and it'd be eliminated from contention.
When that happened, my vote would slide to my number-two choice, "Winter's Bone" – but that film would likely have been eliminated before "Black Swan," so the vote would shift to number three, "Toy Story 3." Eventually it'd likely go to number four, "The King's Speech." Since "TKS" will almost certainly end up as either the winner or the runner-up, that's the pile where my vote would end up.
Best Actor: Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"
Colin Firth is absolutely wonderful in "The King's Speech," and I'll be delighted when he wins. But Bardem, as Ben Affleck said, is "on another level" as the world-weary Uxbal in "Biutiful." Even though I know that for him the nomination is triumph enough, he gets my vote.
Best Supporting Actor: John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"
In an extremely strong field from top to bottom, I could make a case for any of the nominees. But I'll go with the guy who most took me by surprise, who brought something rich and scary and unexpected to an indelible little film.
Best Actress: Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"
I'm sure Natalie Portman will win, and that's great; she's deserving. But I can't resist using this vote to salute one of the year's rawest, bravest performances, from a film that should have been in the running in a lot more categories than just this one.
Best Supporting Actress: Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"
It's tempting to go with Amy Adams, whose work in "The Fighter" is strong and subtle. Still, there's just too much delicious evil in Weaver's fearsome matriarch, the most indelible of the many striking characters in this Australian crime drama.
Animated Feature: "Toy Story 3"
"How to Train Your Dragon" is fun and "The Illusionist" is beautiful, but I'm a father of a son who was five when the first "Toy Story" came out and is now living at college while his toys (including, yes, Buzz and Woody) sit in boxes in his old room. Was there ever any way in which this perfectly crafted movie wouldn't hit home? No, there wasn't.
Art Direction: "Inception"
The job was not just to create worlds, but dream worlds, laced with subtle clues that things are not what they seem. Guy Hendrix Dyas and his crew were indispensable co-conspirators with director Chris Nolan in this bold puzzle of an action film.
Cinematography: "Black Swan"
Matthew Libatique, a longtime collaborator of Darren Aronofsky's, whips up a bold, dark, beautifully moody look that to me stands out over any of the other contenders.
Costume Design: "I Am Love"
It's not the flashiest by a long shot ("Alice in Wonderland" and "The Tempest" have that ground covered), but the costumes serve an essential role in this arty Italian drama, where the sleek, impeccable surfaces contrast with the emotional turmoil beneath.
Directing: "Black Swan"
"Black Swan" is my favorite movie among the nominees, and I have no doubt that Darren Aronofsky is responsible for every second of the glorious insanity. That makes this an easy choice.
Film Editing: "Black Swan"
I'd give it this award just for the wild, exhilarating, stupendously over-the-top final half hour. But the way the tension builds before that is a pretty remarkable achievement, too.
Makeup: "The Wolfman"
I grew up obsessed with old monster movies, definitely including the original "Wolfman." This film isn't a particular good example of the genre – but it sure looks great, and I'm not going to vote against Rick Baker doing werewolf makeup.
Original Score: "The Social Network"
The score for "The King's Speech" sets the tone wonderfully, but lets Mozart and especially Beethoven do some of the heavy lifting. "How to Train Your Dragon" is the most fun, and it sounds like the most work. "127 Hours" is rich and vibrant, and I'd make the sad, overpowering drama of "Inception" a strong second choice. But Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are essential to the tone and mood of "The Social Network," and their tense, itchy score really is something new under the sun.
Original Song: "We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3"
Maybe Randy Newman can knock this kind of thing out in his sleep – but damnit, it just works, with a New Orleans lilt and some sly asides giving the song more personality than it needs (and a slight edge over the moody "If I Rise").
Sound Editing: "Tron: Legacy"
How do you convey a completely artificial world? With (sadly unnominated) special effects, but also with an artificial soundscape that's dramatic and disorienting.
Sound Mixing: "The Social Network"
The dialogue is key. So is the music. So is the environment, be it a Harvard dorm or a thunderous nightclub. And the mix manages to keep it all distinct, achieving a meticulous balance crucial to David Fincher's film.
Visual Effects: "Alice in Wonderland"
The dreamscapes of "Inception" are seamless and bold, but the task in "Alice" went beyond that. In addition to creating nearly every environment from the ground up, the effects artists added wholly CG creatures, and then tweaked and altered almost every real person who appears onscreen.
Adapted Screenplay: "Toy Story 3"
Credit goes to whomever in the Pixar brain trust came up with the idea of having the familiar "Toy Story" gang age for the third installment, and to Michael Arndt for taking some good ideas and turning them into a kids movie that can make grownups cry.
Original Screenplay: "The King's Speech"
"The King's Speech" was David Seidler's vision, and he did it right. Of course it took a batch of superlative actors and some sure-handed direction, but the movie that'll likely emerge on top come Oscar night started with a touching story, well told.
Documentary Feature: "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
In a very strong year for non-fiction filmmaking, I say it's time to recognize the new currents that are keeping the field fresh and vital. Let's give it to Banksy and let's see what happens.
Documentary Short Subject: "Sun Come Up"
It's a tough sit, making it through three-plus hours of black screens containing sobering information about terrible things going on in the world. The most indelible face comes from the subject of "Poster Girl," but the protagonists of "Sun Come Up" – South Pacific islanders looking for a new place to live as climate change gradually swamps the home they've occupied for centuries – are the ones who've stuck with me.
Foreign Language Film: "Biutiful"
The top three contenders in this category – "Biutiful," "Incendies" and "In a Better World" – are as strong a trio as you'll find in any category this year. But only one also happens to be my favorite movie of 2010, so my vote proudly goes to what I once described as "Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's haunted, crushing tone poem."
Animated Short Film: "Day & Night"
The best use of 3D since the paddle-ball scene in Vincent Price's "House of Wax" gives this Pixar gem a slight edge over the touching Australian film "The Lost Thing."
Live Action Short Film: "Wish 143"
It's not a great year for this category – but in a field of solid films that prompt only mild enthusiasm, I found this gentle look at a teenage boy's dying wish to be the most affecting.
Coming soon: my almost-final predictions.