My predictions for the big night. The full list of nominations is here.
Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Avatar led this race early on when it nabbed the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama, but since then The Hurt Locker has emerged as a favorite with the guilds. Among its several trophies in the past few months was a jaw-dropping upset win over Avatar at the Producer's Guild Awards (where James Cameron's film was a shoo-in). If things go according to plan, The Hurt Locker will become the lowest grossing Best Picture winner in decades.
Alternates: Everything currently points towards The Hurt Locker, but if there's an upset, Avatar and Inglourious Basterds are likely candidates.
Should win: This year's Best Picture roster is easily the best in years -- the decision to expand the nominees to ten worked well this year (though it remains to be seen if it'll work just as well in the coming years, so I'm reserving my final assessment of this experiment as of now). My favorite films of the year (in order of preference): Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man, The Hurt Locker. I'll be happy to see either of them win.
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
This should be an easy win even if the film goes on to lose Best Picture. She won the Directors Guild award (a very accurate predictor of the eventual Oscar winner) and her win will make history as the first directing win for a woman (not to mention the fact that she'll be winning over ex-husband James Cameron). Academy voters will find it hard to ignore that. Expect a standing ovation.
Alternates: I can't think of a scenario where Bigelow loses this -- Cameron would be an upset, Tarantino would be a stunner.
Should win: Tarantino or Bigelow are equally deserving candidates, though I love Cameron's work on Avatar as well. Still, I really hope to see Bigelow win this thing!
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Bridges is one of Hollywood's most respected actors and his Oscar-less status has been discussed quite often (4 previous nominations, 0 wins). After a clean sweep of the precursors (including the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe), and numerous Critic's group citations, he will finally win that elusive Oscar.
Alternates: None. Colin Firth won the BAFTA but it's hard to imagine Bridges losing this one.
Should win: Colin Firth's is the one performance I haven't seen from the group -- three of the remaining four are excellent performances -- George Clooney (Up in the Air), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) and my favorite: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker).
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
This is where I'm breaking away from the consensus (Sandra Bullock): I have a hunch that Streep will finally win that third Oscar. Of course, everything points towards a Bullock win -- she has the Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award -- and fits the pattern of Academy rewarding stars in this category. But Streep hasn't won in so long (her second Oscar came way back in 1982) that voters may want to reward her (especially since she delivers the better performance!). Plus, I'd like to predict at least one surprise.
Alternates: The likely winner here is Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side and a possible shocking upset - Gabourey Sidibe, Precious (be prepared for the water works if this comes to pass!)
Should win: Some of the year's best performances weren't nominated here - Tilda Swinton (Julia), Abbie Cornish (Bright Star), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist). Among the nominees, Sidibe is my favorite but Streep is great in her film so I have no issues if she wins. Just as long as it is not Bullock, I'll be happy.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Mo'Nique, Precious
They are both such overwhelming favorites that I won't even bother to analyze the competition. And there's a good reason why they've steamrolled over the other contenders and why they will win on Oscar night -- they are the best in their respective categories by miles (it'll be awesome to finally see an acting win for a Tarantino-directed performance!)
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
This will be a close call -- voters may look at rewarding Tarantino for his film in this category, or it could get caught in a Hurt Locker sweep. Should be an interesting race!
Alternate: Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Should Win: The Coen Brothers, A Serious Man (brilliant!) or Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds (audacious and brilliant!)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
This will be the category where they will reward once-thought-to-be-the-favorite Up in the Air.
Alternate: Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
Should win: Up in the Air or In the Loop
Best Foreign Language Film: A Prophet (France) (Alternate: The White Ribbon, Germany)
Another close race -- it's a toss-up between A Prophet or The White Ribbon (if they want to finally reward Michael Haneke with an Oscar). I love both the films but haven't seen the rest of the nominees yet.
Best Animated Feature: Up (Alternate: None)
As the only animated film in the Best Picture race, Up will find it easy to win, just like the past Pixar products. There is some great work nominated here though, and I think Fantastic Mr. Fox is actually a slightly better film (though Up is amazing as well).
Best Film Editing: Bob Murawski and Chris Innis, The Hurt Locker (alternate: Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron, Avatar)
This category traditionally lines up with the Best Picture winners (the Best Editing winner has gone on to win the Oscar more than 60% of the time). This will also be an early indicator if there's an Avatar upset in the works in the big categories.
Best Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd, The Hurt Locker (alternate: Mauro Fiore, Avatar or Christian Bergen, The White Ribbon)
One of my favorite categories at the Oscars every year, this is also a close race between The Hurt Locker (BAFTA winner) and Avatar, but The White Ribbon won the Cinematographer's guild award, so that's in play too. I think that the CG-nature of Cameron's film may work against it and Hurt Locker may take this one home. But it's a close call.
Best Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, Avatar (alternate: None!)
Can't see anyone else winning this!
Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, The Young Victoria (alternate: Catherine Leterrier, Coco Before Chanel)
Sandy Powell is a favorite in this category (2 past wins from 8 nominations). She'll probably add a third Oscar to her shelf. Nine and Coco Before Chanel could upset.
Best Original Score: Michael Giacchino, Up (alternate: James Horner, Avatar)
Another one of my favorite categories. Giacchino should finally win this after doing some amazing work in the past few years (Pixar's earlier Ratatouille and The Incredibles). His music has also been an essential ingredient in Lost, often improving an already terrific TV show. PLUS: Just watch this clip -- how can he not win?
Best Original Song: "Weary Kind", Crazy Heart (alternate: none)
Best Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker (alternate: Avatar)
Best Sound Editing: Avatar (alternate: The Hurt Locker)
Best Visual Effects: Avatar (alternate: NONE)
Avatar might win all three of these but war movies also fare well in the sound categories, and The Hurt Locker's Best Picture front-runner status may carry it to a win in Best Sound. It did win the Guild award for Best Sound, and the Cinema Audio Society guild winner is usually the same as the eventual Oscar winner.
Best Makeup: Star Trek (alternate: The Young Victoria)
Best Documentary Feature: The Cove (alternate: Burma VJ)
Best Documentary Short: China's Unnatural Disaster: Sichuan Province (alternate: ??)
Best Short Film (Live Action): The Door (alternate: Kavi)
Best Short Film (Animated): The Lady and the Reaper (alternate: A Matter of Loaf and Death)