Finally, Oscar week is here, and it’s a different animal this year, sporting 10 Best Picture nominees instead of the traditional five, in hopes of luring in more viewers by being able to nominate popular movies instead of just good movies. If you haven’t gotten a chance to get out and see all of the nominees yet, here’s a quick cheat sheet to get you up to speed on what you need to know about the big six categories before this Sunday’s extravaganza.
Who Should Win? It gets a little tricky, sifting through the ten movies here, so let’s weed out the rabble. A Serious Man, being a starless movie with no hype and an even more challenging ending than No Country For Old Men, has no chance, as it’s basically only here because they couldn’t exclude the Coen Brothers. An Education also falls into the ‘awkward ending’ category, while District 9 has the starless problem, and it doesn’t have nearly the Slumdog Millionaire support to carry it through, despite its revitalizing its genre. Up and The Blind Side are populist choices that will draw eyeballs and to shut Pixar up about having their films competing beyond the Best Animated Feature category. Crowd-pleasing is also the function of the insane blockbuster Avatar as well, but even though it has the added attraction of being an unprecedented technical achievement, that doesn’t make up for its one-dimensional script issues. The generally tepid response to Up In The Air leaves us with two edge-of-your-seat war thrillers that couldn’t be more different vs. emotional trauma in the inner city. As amazing as Inglourious Basterds is, hard realism should trump the inventive reimagineering of history, so that puts The Hurt Locker up against Precious. A very tough call, but the gut feeling is that the international relevance of The Hurt Locker edges out the personal turmoil of Precious.
Who Will Win? Avatar, because everyone loves money.
Who Should Win? Jeff Bridges feels like a lock here, as Crazy Heart was all Bridges and pretty much only Bridges. This isn’t the year for George Clooney, and Morgan Freeman’s impression of Nelson Mendela in Invictus won’t be enough to counteract the fact that it’s pretty much just a rugby movie. Colin Firth is always worthy, and one has to wonder if there was some ‘hanging chad’ confusion on the ballot between A Single Man and A Serious Man that kept his film out of the Best Picture race. Jeremy Renner is the driving force behind the success of The Hurt Locker, but that movie also has a hell of a lot more going on than Crazy Heart.
Who Will Win? Bad Blake gets his due, because everyone loves Bridges, too. Renner has an outside shot at an upset, but it’s pretty far outside.
Who Should Win? Here’s where we could really get some surprises. Helen Mirren was great in The Last Station, but nobody saw that. Perennial nominee Meryl Streep won’t win this time around for a Julia Child impression in Julie & Julia, but the other three choices make this a race. Of course, Sandra Bullock has the star power and the feel-good vibes from The Blind Side, but many people still aren’t sold on her as a Best Actress. Carey Mulligan has the captivating-ingenue-bursting-with-potential vote for An Education, but she has the best chance to make her way back to more Oscar noms in the future. That’s the thing – knowing Hollywood and its deplorable double standard about casting women who aren’t a size 0, there’s unfortunately a “size 0″ chance that Gabourey Sidibe will ever get another role as good and meaty as the one she completely aced in Precious, and that should hopefully put her over the top to win this year.
Who Will Win? Bullock, in the hopes of getting another cackling Julia Roberts moment from an American sweetheart.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who Should Win? No surprises to be found in the Supporting categories this year. Again, no one saw Christopher Plummer’s interesting performance as Tolstoy in The Last Station, nor did anyone really see Woody Harrelson in The Messenger. Matt Damon was a bit of a surprise nominee as a rugby captain in Invictus, and Stanley Tucci was apparently the only thing most people liked about The Lovely Bones. Nothing holds a candle to the mesmerizing performance of Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa, the notorious Nazi “Jew Hunter” who sees himself as merely a detective utilizing his skills as best he can in Inglourious Basterds. From the amazing tension of the opening scene all the way until he gets his savage release by strangling Diane Kruger, Waltz had us all in the palm of his hand the entire time.
Who Will Win? Waltz. In a walk.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who Should Win? There’s no real contest happening in this category at all. Nobody much liked Nine, so Penelope Cruz is out. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick were both enjoyable in Up In The Air, but that’s about as far as that movie will take them. Maggie Gyllenhaal is always good, but there’s a reason she wasn’t nominated for any other awards anywhere for Crazy Heart – her role was pretty much only there to give Bad Blake a character arc. Given all that, plus the fact that Mo’Nique surprised the hell out of everyone and blew us all out of the water with her harrowing performance as the abusive, addled mother of Precious, there’s just no reason she shouldn’t win.
Who Will Win? Mo’Nique. Hands down. No suspense – open the show with it.
Who Should Win? This makes for an interesting competition for everybody except Up In The Air’s Jason Reitman – not your year, pal. Keep at it, though, you’re good. Ordinarily, Lee Daniels would have a shot for Precious, but the raw horsepower of the other three candidates here is going to be too much for him to complete with. Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest filmmakers working today and Inglourious Basterds was an incredibly directed film, but even he will likely be overshadowed by the headline-friendly battle of the exes between James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. It’s hard to ignore that Cameron spent a decade developing the technological marvel that is Avatar, a feat worthy of respect and admiration, but the film is all technology and nothing much else. Bigelow has made a great, powerful all-around well-crafted film in The Hurt Locker, and she should make history as the first female director to ever win an Oscar.
Who Will Win? Cameron’s gone on record saying that he wants Bigelow to win Best Director and Avatar to win Best Picture. He’ll probably get his wish.