Expect 'Avatar,' Bridges, Bullock to win
By BILL GOODYKOONTZ
Gannett Chief Film Critic
It's that time again, time for critics to vote with their hearts and not their heads while trying to choose this year's Academy Award winners.
It happens every year, and it's understandable. We see so many bad movies that we root for the ones we like beyond reason, especially at Oscar time.
Not this time. This time, it's all business. Personal feelings will not come into play. If "Avatar" was basically nothing more than a 2›-hour commercial for advanced moviemaking, so be it. It's also made more than $1 billion (it seems almost a matter of duty to say "BILLION" every time you type that, just for emphasis), and that kind of thing isn't taken lightly by the people in Hollywood who vote on these things.
Still, "Hurt Locker" was so good, so riveting, so palpable in its tension, in its Ugh. There we go again, actually cheering for something instead of looking at it with a cold, dispassionate eye. Can't be helped, I suppose.
Let's try this again. Here are my educated guesses for the top Oscar categories. Feel free to use them in your own pool, to argue about them or to wait till the show's over and throw them back in my face.
"The Blind Side"
"The Hurt Locker"
"A Serious Man"
"Up in the Air"
Will win: "Avatar"
Should win: "The Hurt Locker"
If only: "Inglourious Basterds"
It's possible that enough people have come to their senses and will vote for "Hurt Locker." Certainly it's better than "Avatar," but so are most of the other films on the list. "Up in the Air" enjoyed front-runner status for a time, and it's quite good, but this seems like a two-film race.
"Basterds" gets a nod simply because it's the one here I most want to see again.
Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"
Will win: Bridges
Should win: Bridges
If only: Firth
Not a lot of people have seen "Crazy Heart," so you'll just have to trust me on this. It's the best performance of an underrated career, so it takes care of the lifetime-achievement nod, as well. Clooney was better than he's ever been, but in an alternate universe it would be nice to see Firth's performance as a man grieving over the death of his partner rewarded.
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious"
Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"
Will win: Bullock
Should win: Mirren
If only: Sidibe
Bullock is undeniably riding a wave of momentum that evidently has washed away memories of "All About Steve" and "The Proposal." Mirren is fantastic as Leo Tolstoy's manic wife, passionate about all things, but especially him. Streep is a heck of a lot of fun as Julia Child, and Mulligan is outstanding as well. But Sidibe made the most of a really difficult role in her debut. She won't win, but that's why we call it "if only."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"
Will win: Waltz
Should win: Waltz
If only: Harrelson
Done deal. This belongs to Waltz, great as a Nazi officer in Quentin Tarantino's rewrite of World War II. Has anyone ever made the simple act of ordering a glass of milk so menacing? Tucci was the best thing about a mediocre movie, but Harrelson, as a troubled soldier who breaks the news of the death of a loved one to families, has never been this good before (and he's never taken seriously enough as an actor as it is).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart"
Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
Will win: Mo'Nique
Should win: Mo'Nique
If only: Farmiga
As sure a thing as Waltz is in the supporting actor category. Mo'Nique's searing, career-changing portrayal of a monster of a mother deserves every award it gets and then some. Farmiga, meanwhile: well, in any other year. She more than held her own against George Clooney while basically playing a female version of him. She's long been good in smaller roles. Nice to see her get something she can really work with and make the most of it.
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Kathyrn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Lee Daniels, "Precious"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"
Will win: Cameron
Should win: Bigelow
If only: Daniels
I could be wrong, and hope that I am. Cameron's technical mastery is beyond question, but Bigelow created an adrenaline-soaked film that gets to the heart of what the world is like right now. (And yes, let's repeat it one more time: Cameron and Bigelow were once married.) She deserves it more, which doesn't mean she'll get it.
As for Daniels, well, a big part of a director's job is to get the best performances out of his actors, and Daniels got great ones from an actress known as a TV comic and a first-timer. He even got a really good one out of Mariah Carey.