84th Academy Awards

84th Academy Awards

In a year when movie attendance was at its lowest, so is my interest in Oscar, despite the good news that Billy Crystal will host the show. More than ever, this evening devoted to film excellence is becoming a popularity contest, and all attempts to correct the course are failing. The addition of five more films in the Best Picture category, a move designed to be more inclusive of popular films, only succeeds in omissions in that the Best Director category still limited to five nominees. Case in point: “The Help” received a nomination but director Tate Taylor didn’t. Then there were the inexplicable snubs in some of the major categories, some of which simply defy explanation.

For those wondering if this ceremony is even relevant anymore, as it’s now so focused now on fashion and faux pas, read Gavin Polone’s recent article in New York magazine. He doesn’t think so, and I agree with him on most points, particularly regarding the bunching up of prestige pictures at the end of the year so these contenders will be fresh in the minds of Academy voters, many of whom anonymously claim they don’t even see the films they vote for. It stacks the deck against any worthy mainstream films released earlier in the year and reinforces this silly practice when indeed they don’t get nominated, although “The Help,” released last August, is an exception.

Of the nine picture nominees, only two were not shown in Beaumont — “The Tree of Life” and “The Artist.” Unfortunately, “The Artist” may well win the Best Picture Oscar with many not residing in a “select city” having never seen it. In the remaining major categories, there are four more films most of us will have to see on DVD post-awards. But one thing a win guarantees is future profit, so whatever we think about this one night of the year salute to cinema, it will continue because the simple fact is it makes money.

This year I am divided in many categories, by who I think will win and who I want to win. I have favorites who weren’t even nominated like Shailene Woodley, the edgy teenager in “The Descendants” and Albert Brooks, who was brilliant as the ruthless gangster in “Drive.” Brooks, especially, was touted as a frontrunner right up until the day the nominations were announced; now he’s just a curious bystander, as are we. So here it goes:

Best Supporting Actress:

This is the one sure bet of the night, and the Oscar goes to Octavia Spencer, the sassy-mouthed Minnie in “The Help.” She’s won every other award she can possible carry home, and there is no one standing in her way. Not Melissa McCarthy for “The Bridesmaids” (although her acceptance speech would surely be a highlight) and not Jessica Chastain, also for “The Help.” No one saw “Albert Nobbs,” so Janet McTeer is sidelined and Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”) will enjoy the show from her seat, as well.

Will win: Spencer

Should win: Spencer (But didn’t you love McCarthy?)

Best Supporting Actor:

The favorite in this category is Christopher Plummer as a widower who decides to come out of the closet – finally – in “The Beginners.” The only actor standing in his way is Max von Sydow, the mute grandfather in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) was the surprise nominee, as was Nick Nolte (“Warrior”). They, along with Kenneth Branaugh, who played Laurence Olivier in “My Week with Marilyn,” can watch Plummer pick up his first Oscar.

Will win: Plummer

Should win: Plummer, but only because Brooks can’t.

Best Actress:

This is a nail biter and impossibly close to call with Meryl Streep and Viola Davis (top) literally in a photo finish. A month ago I would have bet on Streep for her phenomenal turn as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” But Viola Davis as Aibilene, the heart and soul of “The Help,” is just as likely to take the prize. I’d be happy with either, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tug for Glenn Close, who plays a woman masquerading as a manservant in “Albert Nobbs.” Nominated five times in a career spanning 30 years, she has already lost to Streep twice. It’s going to sting again for her, as it will also for Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and Michele Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”).

Will win: Viola Davis

Should win: Honestly, I can’t make up my mind. It was a great year for the ladies.Best Actor:

This is also a very close race between Jean Dujardin (below) of “The Artist” and George Clooney, the jilted husband in “The Descendants.” Clooney has a slight edge, but it may be Dujardin wins in a carryover from the film’s frontrunner status in the next two categories. As much as I liked “Moneyball,” I didn’t get the nomination for Brad Pitt, and I didn’t see “A Better Life” with nominee Demian Bichir. For my money, this race should come down to Clooney and Gary Oldman, who was riveting as George Smiley, the tired old MI6 agent who ferrets out the mole in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” That’s how it’s done, folks — with dialog.

Will win: Dujardin

Should win: Clooney

Best Director:

Now this is interesting. The most nominated film this year is “Hugo,” directed by Martin Scorsese, with 11 nominations. Right behind is “The Artist,” directed by Michel Hazanavicius, with a total of 10 nods. They are both nominated in this category, and one will be the winner, mostly likely Hazanavicius, who conceived the homage to silent films and executed it perfectly. In fact, all five nominees here delivered projects that were very close to their hearts. Woody Allen won’t win this category, but will most likely take home the Original Screenplay Oscar for “Midnight in Paris,” his first crowd pleasure in ages. Likewise Alexander Payne for the Hawaiian family dramedy “The Descendants,” who is the favorite for Adapted Screenplay. When Terrence Malick premiered “The Tree of Life” at the Cannes Film Festival last summer, there were audible boos from the audience. Although it persevered, it would be a huge upset if Malick or the picture won. We won’t speak it aloud, but …

Will win: Hazanavicius

Should win: Payne

Best Picture:

Does it really matter that there are nine (a maximum 10 are allowed) nominees in this category? So what? There can only be one winner, and the odds are it will be “The Artist.” I enjoyed this film: it was clever and entertaining, but it lacked the heft that some of the other nominees have, namely “The Descendants,” which throughout this pre-Oscar season has stumbled as its star picked up more buzz than the picture. There are Woody Allen fans, too, for “Midnight in Paris,” but sadly Oscar tends to overlook comedies. And most of “Hugo’s” 11 wins will come in the technical categories, not here. Here are the rest of the nominees: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life,” “War Horse” and “The Help” — all save “Tree” go without director nominations, which will hurt. Barring an upset, there is a clear winner.

Will win: “The Artist”

Should win: “The Descendants”

All will be revealed Sunday, Feb. 26, beginning at 7 p.m. on ABC.