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EDITOR'S NOTE: Kirk Baird will tweet the Oscar presentation followed by a post-show blog at toledoblade.com. Follow him on Twitter @bladepopculture.
Let's not kid ourselves: The Oscars are a popularity contest, an awards show that pits wealthy, attractive people with glamorous and intriguing lives against each other for our entertainment.
In that respect there will be no losers Sunday at the 84th annual Academy Awards, seen locally beginning at 8:30 p.m. on WTVG-TV, Channel 13.
At worst, a famous actor/actress or well-to-do filmmaker misses out on Oscar gold but still has an ultra-hip, ultra-exclusive post-Oscars party to attend. They also keep their money and fame regardless of the outcome on the awards show. That's a considerable consolation prize, like missing the winning numbers on Megabucks, but receiving a million-dollar check for the effort.
Still, there will be the big winners tonight, and that leads us to my annual Oscar selections.
Best Picture: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse.
This year the race is not close. This will be a night of high-fives, hugs, and European kisses among those involved in The Artist. The Academy loves to celebrate its history and film. What better way to accomplish both than to honor a homage to the silent film era? This is win-win Academy Awards style. Plus, The Artist is a truly beautiful and sweet film and the better movie of its closest competitor, The Descendants.
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life).
Does an Artist win for Best Picture means Hazanavicius is a shoo-in for Best Director? Logic says yes. The Directors Guild of America almost always forecasts the Oscar winner; the two groups have only disagreed twice in 64 years. Hazanavicius won the DGA for feature film a few weeks ago. The French filmmaker will win again tonight.
Best Actor: Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball).
Mexican Bichir won an Ariel, his country's equivalent of Oscar, more than 15 years ago, and British Oldman won a BAFTA, his country's version of the Oscar, nearly 15 years ago. Neither has been nominated for an Oscar until now and neither will win. Keeping with the foreign theme among this year's nominees is Dujardin. Pitt (Moneyball) is also nominated, but Dujardin's chief rival is Clooney. He was quietly moving -- at times heartbreaking -- as a stoic husband and father trying to save his family after his wife falls into a coma, and Dujardin was funny and surprisingly touching as a Buster Keaton-inspired George Valentin, a handsome, egocentric silent film star whose career fades with the invention of talking movies. Both performances are inspired, making this an especially close race, but Clooney wins.
Best Actress: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).
This is a loaded category, with all of the five nominees deserving. But it won't be Close or Mara who thank the Academy. In early December, the award belonged to Williams for her striking performance as a wounded and wily Marilyn Monroe. But Streep changed more than a few opinions with her brilliant turn as the fiery conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Each won a Golden Globe (Streep for drama, Williams for comedy or musical) and then Davis received a Screen Actors Guild award. This is a difficult race to call, but my gut says that Streep and Williams split the votes and Davis sneaks in for the win.
Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close).
The supporting categories are where the Academy members love to get tricksy, to quote Gollum. But not this year, at least for supporting actor. If this were a major-league team, Hill would be the player just happy to be here, and Nolte would be the comeback player of the year. Branagh was brilliant as witty and full-of-himself Laurence Olivier, but this year it's about two veteran actors who have never won an Oscar: Plummer and von Sydow. Von Sydow was moving in a wordless performance of a broken man ruled by fear and failure, but Plummer's triumph as an elderly widower and father who has come out of the closet to embrace his homosexuality is likely to resonate more with voters. Plummer wins.
Best Supporting Actress: Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help).
Sorry Bejo and McTeer, both worthy winners in this category, but this is Spencer's Oscar all the way. Her feisty, take-no-guff domestic worker in 1960s segregated Mississippi brings righteous anger and comic spark to The Help. Spencer won at the Golden Globes, the SAGs, and now the Oscars.
Animated Feature: A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, Rango.
So when's the last time Pixar wasn't in this category? It was 2005, the last year the studio didn't release a film. Forget the two foreign entries (A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita). This is a three-way race among Kung Fu Panda 2 (gorgeous), Puss in Boots (funny-clever), and Rango (avant-garde). Pushing the envelope for kids' movies almost always wins and so does Rango.
Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman (The Artist), Jeff Cronenweth (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Robert Richardson (Hugo), Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life), Janusz Kaminski (War Horse).
These are all beautiful films. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's opening credits alone are worth the nomination. I also was smitten with the subtle symbolism captured through Schiffman's lens, effectively aiding a wordless film in telling its story. But I've seen nothing close to The Tree of Life this year -- or in many years before. Even those perplexed and/or bored by the film's dense and nontraditional narrative structure agree on The Tree of Life's beauty on screen. Lubezki wins for his stunning visual poetry.
And a rundown of some of the other categories:
Best Documentary Feature:
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Documentaries are meant to inform, entertain, and promote change. Berlinger and Sinofsky's trio of documentaries on the West Memphis Three have done all of the above and considerably more -- most notably helping to free three innocent teens -- now grown men -- from prison after their wrongful murder convictions.
Film Editing: The Artist, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius. If you haven't seen the movie, you'll understand after you do why it wins this category.
Music (Original Score): The Artist was criticized by some for its use of music from other films, along with composer Ludovic Bource's jazzy originals. That criticism will hurt Bource's chances. And have you heard John Williams' score for War Horse? It's a return to form for the master of movie scores. War Horse.
Music (Original Song): Whether it was meant to cut down on the run time of the Oscars by eliminating the musical performances or simply a reflection of an off year for movie songs, having only two nominees in this category is disingenuous. And neither nominee was a hit. Still, the "Man or Muppet" song from The Muppets was funny and eloquent, as only a good Muppets movie can be. The Muppets was a rousing and retro return to form for the franchise, and this song will be rewarded for it.
Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Congrats for finally making an Apes film that felt like real monkeys and apes.
Writing (Original Screenplay): Should a silent film receive an Oscar? How about a breakthrough women's comedy (Bridesmaids) that stole the summer? Or the best Woody Allen script (Midnight in Paris) in a decade or more? The Academy voters will opt to give Hazanavicius an Oscar for his directing and not writing, while they congratulate Allen for a script worthy of his legacy. Midnight in Paris.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay): As much as I loved the Moneyball script, finally, a win for The Descendants, screenplay by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash.
Contact Kirk Baird at: email@example.com or 419-724-6734.