Picking Oscar's Best Picture winner this year is like tracking down a celebrity at a rehab center: Does it get any easier?
Bet the farm on The Hurt Locker, a riveting, harrowing film about an expert bomb disposal unit in Iraq that will have you sweating bullets — unlike the film's producers, who must know their movie's Best Picture win is a fait accompli.
Leading the 82nd annual Academy Awards with nine nominations, along with the 3-D sci-fi-fantasy blockbuster Avatar, expect Hurt Locker to be called numerous times by award presenters in tonight's Oscar telecast, which airs at 8:30 on ABC and can be seen locally on WTVG-TV, Channel 13.
Such predictability is something the Academy clearly hoped to avoid when it doubled its decades-old traditional five Best Picture nominees for this year's ceremony.
It won't matter.
The Hurt Locker stands out among a crowded pack of contenders. The white-knuckle drama has already picked up several critics and industry awards, its only serious competition coming from Up in the Air, a biting comedy-drama about a frequent-flier corporate hatchet man that speaks to our times.
This prediction is said confidently, despite the so-called "Lockergate" public relations nightmare, in which a Hurt Locker producer solicited support from Academy members via e-mail, while urging them not to vote for "a $500 million film" such as Avatar.
And what about Avatar, the biggest film ever, the movie that had millions sporting geeky 3-D glasses and walking out of theaters praising the future of cinema? The film picked up a Golden Globe for best film. Lest we forget, the movie also was written and directed by James Cameron, whose last Best Picture win resulted in one of the greatest moments of hubris in Oscar history. Do you really think Academy voters want to see that again? Does Hollywood really need another planet-sized ego?
Avatar is not a critical favorite, anyway. It's a great entertainment vehicle that teleports you to another world (or moon, in this case). It's breathtaking to watch and experience, but as a film it's a poor imitation of Cameron's past greatness. There's simply no way Avatar walks away with Best Picture and the Oscars retain any shred of self respect. This isn't a high school popularity contest, where the best-looking seniors win. The Oscars are supposed to be about substance. (Rocky, Dances With Wolves, and Shakespeare in Love withstanding.)
And what about Best Director? Give it to Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow, who happens to be Cameron's ex-wife. And you thought Oscar drama was solely in the movies it celebrates.
Best Actor goes to Crazy Heart's Jeff Bridges, as a broken-down country music legend looking for a comeback, a fine role by an overlooked and under-appreciated actor.
Sandra Bullock will probably win Best Actress for her brassy, sassy role as a Southern woman who adopts a struggling black high school teen of immense size and immense football talent in Blind Side. Bullock's loaded up on trophies for the role, even though she's up against some heavy contenders, led by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe was stunning in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire as an illiterate and pregnant high school girl struggling to make a new life for herself. Similar accolades can be bestowed upon the other three nominees, who are each deserving of the Oscar.
Bullock is the Sesame Street addition to the category, as in, "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong."
Nevertheless, it's hers to lose.
Supporting Actor is owned by Christoph Waltz for his chilling and darkly comical SS agent in Inglorious Basterds. The same goes for Supporting Actress, an award that might as well be in Mo'Nique's possession for her dramatic turn as Precious' abusive mother. Mo'Nique's teary-eyed and stubborn monologue about not judging her is haunting.
In the Best Animated Feature category, Pixar, nominated for Up, for a change has some competition, including another Disney film, The Princess and the Frog, a wonderful throwback to traditional hand-drawn animation with a terrific score. And don't rule out Wes Anderson's quirky and lovely Fantastic Mr. Fox. And ... who am I kidding? It's Up all the way.
And for those playing the home version of the Oscar game:
Bruno Delbonnel (The Hurt Locker) for cinematography;
The Cove for documentary feature;
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant for documentary short;
Bob Murawski and Chriss Innis (The Hurt Locker) for editing;
Germany's Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) for foreign language film; Michael Giacchino (Up) for original score — tell me you didn't tear up during the film's dramatic 10-minute compression of a couple's life together, punctuated by a tender score?
Randy Newman's "Down in New Orleans" (The Princess and the Frog) for original song — first the Super Bowl, now this: It's New Orleans' year;
Avatar for visual effects — should there be any other nominees in this category?;
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air) for adapted screenplay;
Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) for original screenplay.
Final score: The Hurt Locker seven Oscars, Avatar two. Game, The Hurt Locker.
Contact Kirk Baird at