Oscars 2010: The shoo-ins, the underdogs, and the buzz-worthy

Arts & Entertainment/Film and TV by

You’ve got 26 days until the Academy Awards, so here’s the buzz and predictions you need to know so you can decide which films to catch up on in the weeks leading up to the Oscars.

BEST PICTURE

This year the Academy has selected 10 motion pictures as candidates for Best Picture, instead of the usual five. The move was made to allow for more diversity in the biggest Oscar category, making more room for small, independent films to be considered alongside the blockbusters. This year’s list of nominees definitely includes a wide range of films, from the accessible, heart-warming, Sandra Bullock vehicle The Blind Side, to the low-budget, mildly-pedophilic British film An Education.

Avatar is in the lead, and is expected to pull a Titantic and not only break box-office records but also pull in a myriad of Oscar statues. But other big names are in the running for this category, including alien Apartheid film District 9 and Tarantino’s Nazi slaughter-fest, Inglourious Basterds. Despite the big names, the movies Avatar has to be wary of are small productions: the tense tale of an American bomb squad unit in Iraq in The Hurt Locker, the depressing plight of an overweight, pregnant, illiterate black teenager in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, and the coming-of-age film An Education all deserve Best Picture this year. Avatar may have had the effects, excitement, and enjoyment factor, but the writing wasn’t enough to get it into the Best Screenplay category (The Blind Side was the only other Best Picture not nominated for Best Screenplay), and An Education looks like it might just follow in Crash‘s footsteps and unexpectedly take this year’s prize.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

This year, a trio of seasoned veterans head up the best actor category: George Clooney (Up in the Air), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), and Morgan Freeman (Invictus) are nominated alongside Colin Firth (A Single Man) and the relatively unknown Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). While there’s been a lot of talk about Firth’s performance in his Mad Men-era film (not to be confused with the Coen brothers black comedy A Serious Man, up for Best Picture) – in which he plays a gay British professor struggling to overcome the death of his partner – he won’t be able to stand against Bridges and Clooney. Bridges’ performance as a fading country music star is headed for the win.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

This should be a no-brainer. There is only one man whose performance overshadowed his entire (highly anticipated) movie. Christoph Waltz, a.k.a Hans Landa, “The Jew Hunter” from Tarantino’s spell-check-worthy hit Inglourious Basterds knows how to the steal the show. From the first scene, in which he both intimidates and entrances the audience – not to mention seamlessly switches between speaking French, German, and English – while drinking a glass of milk, Waltz commands every shot, even when sitting across the table from Brad Pitt. He’s already won a mini-Oscar (Golden Globe), and a mini Golden Globe (Screen Actor’s Award), so an Oscar is the next logical step.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Best Actress always seems like it might go in any direction. Meryl Streep may be the best actress of our time, and with 16 Oscar nominations but only two wins, the Academy may decide her dead-on Julia Child is deserving of a reward. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe impressed in Precious, while Helen Mirren has been praised for her role as Leo Tolstoy’s wife in The Last Station. Somehow, Sandra Bullock made it into the running for her Southern accent and blonde hair in The Blind Side, in which she broadens her outlook on life by taking in a teen from a broken home and turning him into a football star. Another newcomer, An Education‘s Carey Mulligan, is also up for the prize, but veteran Streep seems likeliest to win this year.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The two jet-setting actresses (Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick) from George Clooney’s Up In The Air are pitted against each other as nominees, alongside “sad turtle” Maggie Gyllenhaal for her role alongside Jeff Bridges in the country-music romance Crazy Heart. But the spotlight is on last year’s winner Penelope Cruz for her role as Daniel Day-Lewis’ busty, passionate mistress in the musical Nine, as well as on TV actress and talk-show host Mo’Nique for her role as the cruel, abusive mother in Precious. Mo’Nique’s performance was both powerful and unexpected, and is the one that will most likely bring home the Oscar this year.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

It was a good year for animated films, with Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Up all making it into the running for Animated Fe ature Film. Disney’s racially-conscious, back-to-2D The Princess and the Frog is up, as is The Secret of Kells, an Irish indie cartoon about a boy who grows up with monks and discovers his talent for illustration. All of the nominees this year are worthwhile, but considering Up is nominated for a Best Picture Oscar that it’s not going to win, there’s a good chance Pixar will be taking home another Best Animated award.

DIRECTING

Canadian content is taking over in this category, with Ontarian James Cameron (Avatar) and Montrealer Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) both nominated this year. Yet what people are really excited about is Cameron running against his ex-wife, director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), for the award. Considering Cameron is on his fifth wife, the excitement should be directed not towards Bigelow’s marital history, but to the fact that if she wins, Bigelow would be the first woman to win this award. The Hurt Locker definitely deserves the prize, and it’s worth your time – one view is enough to see why Bigelow will be making history in March.

ART DIRECTION/CINEMATOGRAPHY/FILM EDITING/VISUAL EFFECTS

Avatar has got these awards in the bag. No matter what you think about James Cameron, the writing, or colonialism, you have to admit Avatar created an experience never before seen. The effects, art direction, and filming are so beautifully done that you almost forget it’s all CGI. Add in the 3D, and you’ve got the future of filmmaking. The other nominees don’t stand a chance.

ORIGINAL SONG

There’s no nice way to say it, but lame songs that are largely un-enjoyable outside of their films almost always win in the Best Original Song category. Case in point: two Randy Newman songs from The Princess and the Frog are nominated. And one of them will probably win. Also nominated is “Loin de Paname,” which won’t win because it’s not in English and it’s from a movie that nobody has seen (Paris 36). “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart is also competing, and despite being a great song that’s preferable to a Disney win, it would be an out-of-character choice for the Academy. Acoustic songs tend to be drowned out by big, overproduced show tunes at the Oscars – just ask Elliott Smith in 1998 or Bruce Springsteen in 1995. “Take It All” from Nine – the movie that had Oscars written all over it (until it came out) – could pull off a win, as judges seem to like big, jazzy throwbacks, such as in Nine’s older sibling, Chicago.