"The King's Speech" will win six Academy Awards on Sunday, double the number for the runner-up, "Inception." "The Social Network," "The Fighter" and "Toy Story 3" will each take home a pair, with the rest of the statuettes divided up between several other films.
With the polls closed and the vote-counting underway, those are my predictions. And I ought to feel good about them: I mean, last year I correctly predicted 20 out of the 24 categories, and the year before that I scored a personal-best 22 out of 24 (though I didn't publish those predictions anywhere, so only my family can vouch for me).
But I have to say, I don't have a good feeling about this year. For every category that feels like a sure thing, there's another that seems completely up in the air. For every Colin Firth, an unassailable frontrunner you can take to the bank, there's a Melissa Leo, her once-formidable momentum dissipated and the trophy that once seemed to be hers now up for grabs.
And for every Best Picture, where the winner seems (relatively) clear, there's a Best Foreign-Language Film, which strikes me as a near dead heat between a trio of films.
I think this is the toughest year for predicting the entire field in some time, and I don't expect to score in the 20s this time around. But for what it's worth, here are my predictions.
The order is the same as on the Oscar ballot.
Best Picture: "The King's Speech"
It felt like an Oscar movie back in early September, when I called it as the winner before I saw it. It burnished its credentials in Telluride and Toronto, endured the unprecedented onslaught of critics' awards that went to "The Social Network," and roared back into frontrunner status when the critics stopped voting and the Hollywood guilds started.
As I wrote back in January, "In 'The King's Speech,' you have a great narrative; two personable and likeable spokespeople in a director and screenwriter willing and eager to articulate the ways in which the historical is actually personal; a charismatic leading man who's due; an impeccable supporting cast; and a film that moves almost everybody who sees it. Did we really think for a second that Harvey Weinstein and crew wouldn't know how to play that hand?"
Weinstein knew how. And when you throw in a voting system that rewards films that are well-liked across the board, "The King's Speech" has the kind of Oscar clout that makes all those critics awards for "The Social Network" almost irrelevant.
Is an upset possible? Sure. Is it likely? No way.
Best Actor: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
Let's ask the same question about a different race: Is an upset possible? Nope. Colin Firth will win.
I think that Javier Bardem, who was considered unlikely to even get a nomination, will end up with the second-highest vote total. But in the same way that nominee Firth walked the red carpet last year knowing that Jeff Bridges was going to take home the prize, so will Bridges and the other three nominees know that this time it's Colin's turn.
Another easy prediction: a Kodak Theater standing ovation for Firth.
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
If Geoffrey Rush manages to win this – which he just might – it'll be an early sign that "The King's Speech" is truly untouchable. But Bale's skeletal, jittery Dickie Eklund is the kind of flashy tour-de-force performance that's impossible for voters to resist, particularly as part of a widely-admired movie that'll be easiest to honor in the supporting categories.
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Annette Bening started the season as the favorite for her role in "The Kids Are All Right," then saw Portman sweep through the precursor awards with few missteps. And while it’s true that Bening has revved up her campaign in recent weeks as Portman's pregnancy has edged her out of public appearances, it feels to me as if the Bening push is too little, too late.
I know that lots of voters love Bening, who's a member of the AMPAS board of governors. But given the choice between a respected vet doing impeccable work and a younger actress in a showier and more physically taxing role, voters have almost always gone for the youngster in recent years.
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Leo's self-backed ad campaign smacked of desperation and didn't do her any favors, and "Fighter" co-star Amy Adams could pull votes away. Heck, Adams could even win – as could Helena Bonham Carter if people really, really love "The King's Speech," and as could Hailee Steinfeld as the nominee who did the most. (The fifth nominee, Jacki Weaver, would be a delicious improbability – but this is a category historically long on improbabilities.)
In the tightest acting race, though, I think affection for "The Fighter," coupled with a quintessentially big, brassy role, will keep Leo on top.
Animated Feature: "Toy Story 3"
"How to Train Your Dragon" has won a batch of recent awards, but there's really just one thing you need to consider here: Of the three nominees, only "Toy Story" is also nominated for Best Picture. The people who nominate for Best Picture (i.e., the entire Academy) are the exact same people who vote for this award, which means that they're already told us which one they like best.
Art Direction: "Inception"
This is one of several categories that could well be swept along as part of a "King's Speech" juggernaut, although the Best Picture winner has triumphed in this category only twice in the past decade. Its prime challengers are probably "Alice in Wonderland" and "Inception," and in recent years the award has usually gone to a dark and elaborate film rather than a fantastical one. So I'll take a stab and say "Inception."
Cinematography: "True Grit"
When in doubt, look for big and beautiful. "Inception" is big (and has degree-of-difficulty working for it), "The King's Speech" is beautiful (and this is another of those potential swept-along categories), but "True Grit" is both. And for Academy members who know who shot it even though the cinematographers' names aren't on the ballot, Roger Deakins is long overdue. Plus, those 10 nominations mean there's a lot of love for "True Grit," and this is the likeliest place for voters to show that love. (Supporting Actress might be the second-likeliest.)
Costume Design: "The King's Speech"
If the royals in "The King's Speech" dressed fancier, that film would be a shoo-in. But none of the other nominees quite bit the bill of what usually wins here ("Alice" is too fantasy-based, "The Tempest" too wild, "I Am Love" too contemporary, "True Grit" too gritty), so I think even a dressed-down king and queen will win.
Directing: Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
It's enormously tempting to predict a David Fincher win and a Picture/Director split, particularly since the two categories now tally their votes differently. And the majority of Oscar voters I've spoken to recently think that's exactly what will happen. But after going back and forth on this in recent weeks, I've decided that the stuttering-king movie is too beloved, and that its director going to take the award that almost always goes hand-in-hand with Best Picture.
Film Editing: "The Social Network"
The sense I get is that voters love "The King's Speech" but admire the hell out of "The Social Network" – and here's a way to show that admiration by honoring the tense, smart rhythms of Fincher's film. "The King" could surprise here, though … and for that matter, so could "The Fighter" or "Black Swan" or "127 Hours."
Makeup: "The Wolfman"
The nominating voters are an individualistic bunch, choosing three films that have no nominations in any other categories. But my guess is that what the makeup artists saw in the relatively subtle "Barney's Version" and "The Way Back" may be lost on the Academy at large, which will go for the biggest, showiest, furriest nominee … unless they can't bring themselves to vote for a bomb.
Original Score: "The King's Speech"
As I wrote on Tuesday, Alexandre Desplat's score for "The King's Speech" lets Mozart and especially Beethoven do some of the heavy lifting. But it also delivers what Academy voters often look for: a distinctive sound, and a memorable theme that summons up the emotion of the film. Hans Zimmer's massive "Inception" and Trent Reznor's and Atticus Ross' adventurous "The Social Network" remain formidable rivals.
Original Song: "We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3"
About 15 years ago, Alan Menken's "I See the Light" would have been a slam dunk. But these are different times, when Academy voters no longer automatically bow down to big animated ballads. I suspect that none of the other songs are quite memorable enough to knock off Randy Newman's spirited capper to a beloved movie (and a beloved trilogy), though a recent AMPAS penchant for relative exotica makes A.R. Rahman's "If I Rise" a real contender.
Sound Editing: "Inception"
The movie is big and bold and loud and good. That's what wins here: e.g., "The Hurt Locker," "Bourne Ultimatum," "The Dark Knight" …
Sound Mixing: "Inception"
If voters are going to step away from big 'n' bold 'n' loud in a sound category, this would be the one – and "True Grit" or "The Social Network" or (here it comes again) "The King's Speech" could be the beneficiary. Two years ago, for instance, Chris Nolan's "Dark Knight" won Sound Editing but lost Sound Mixing to the Best Picture winner, "Slumdog Millionaire." It could happen again, but I don't think so.
Visual Effects: "Inception"
"Alice in Wonderland" might have had more extensive effects work, but this will be a year where seamless and dramatically essential effects beat out more elaborate contenders. "Inception" isn’t quite the lock that "Avatar" was in this category last year (or "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" the year before), but it's a prohibitive favorite.
Adapted Screenplay: "The Social Network"
And speaking of prohibitive favorites … This might be the sole category where onetime frontrunner "The Social Network" never lost its mojo, unless "Toy Story 3" somehow pulls off a shocker. But let's get real: on Sunday night at the Kodak, Aaron Sorkin will get his chance to deliver one last shout-out to Mark Zuckerberg.
Original Screenplay: "The King's Speech"
From the start, director Tom Hooper made a point of talking about how writing the story of "The King's Speech" was a lifelong passion for former stutterer David Seidler. It made the journeyman writer central to the film's narrative, and that makes him a commanding favorite over Chris Nolan ("Inception") and Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg ("The Kids Are All Right").
Documentary Feature: "Inside Job"
I don't trust this pick; it feels too easy, given a category in which I could see all five of the films as potential winners. But it's hard to ignore the DGA and WGA Awards, so I give this sobering, classic talking-heads doc a slight edge over the subversive fun of "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (which I think has real momentum, and may have benefited from the furor over Banksy's possible attendance at the Oscar show) and the more emotional "Waste Land."
Documentary Short Subject: "Strangers No More"
It's a given that this category will be full of tough, bleak looks at social problems. But to find the winners, you often have to look for the uplift – and none of the entries have it anywhere near the degree you'll find in this inspiring look at a multi-national school for the children of refugees in Israel. If voters think "Strangers" overplays its hand at the end, the more quietly hopeful "Sun Come Up" and the heartbreaking and raw "Poster Girl" could step in.
Foreign Language Film: "Biutiful"
The safe pick here is probably "In a Better World," a wholly satisfying film which more closely fits the mold of recent winners in this category. But I've been keeping tabs on Academy screenings of the Foreign-Language contenders – and while the race in many ways seems to be a tossup between "Better World," "Incendies" and "Biutiful," I've heard enough to make me think that this powerful Mexican film has a very, very slight edge among the small group of members who'll be eligible to vote.
Animated Short Film: "Madagascar, carnet de voyage"
Most pundits seem to be predicting "The Gruffalo," which strikes me as exactly the kind of film that voters in this category usually don't pick. What they do pick, when it's offered to them, is personal, emotional animation; this wildly varied travel-scrapbook-come-to-life isn't quite personal enough to seal the deal, but it's the closest to what voters go for when they've got the chance. But watch out for Pixar's "Day & Night," which makes dazzling use of 3D and which was screened in that format for Academy voters.
Live Action Short Film: "Wish 143"
"God of Love" stands out because it's the most fun, "Na Wewe" because it has the strongest bite and feels important. But in a field that I find extremely hard to handicap, I'm thinking that the sweetest and most moving entrant might take the prize – though I'll freely admit that recent history favors brassier and louder films.
One more thing: I reserve the right to change my mind about all of this between now and Sunday.