Starting at 7 p.m. this Sunday night -- and ending sometime around Labor Day weekend -- the motion picture industry will hand out its top honors at the 83rd Academy Awards. I don't know for sure who will be leaving the Kodak Theatre with Oscar statues in hand, but I have a few decent guesses -- and a bunch of outright ones, too.
Actor in a Leading Role:
Javier Bardem in "Biutiful"
Jeff Bridges in "True Grit"
Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network"
Colin Firth in "The King's Speech"
James Franco in "127 Hours"
I've only seen the films that Bridges and Franco starred in; Franco's work in "127 Hours" was, for me, revelatory -- he was splendid in a difficult role and deserved a nomination. Bridges, for his part, was an excellent fit as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit."
But over the last few weeks, it has seemed that the man to beat is Colin Firth. He took home the Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Lead Actor, so it stands to reason that he'll win again this Sunday.
Actor in a Supporting Role:
Christian Bale in "The Fighter"
John Hawkes in "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner in "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo in "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech"
Often times, the best, most resonant performances in movies come in the supporting categories. With a roster this deep with talented actors, it might be hard to pick a winner. Renner is nominated for the second year in a row, this time for his hard-as-nails Boston bank robber in "The Town," a terrific and terrifying character. Geoffrey Rush -- already an Oscar winner -- is getting some late buzz as a speech therapist to the King of England. If he were to win, that would likely signify a big night for "The King's Speech."
However, based on his win at the SAG awards (and nearly sweeping the major critics prizes, too), this looks like Christian Bale's year.
Actress in a Leading Role:
Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine"
This is likely a tight race between Bening and Portman; I'd imagine that the accountants tabulating the votes have had to double- and triple-check the ballots (at least, more than usual) to ensure that the right name gets called Sunday night.
I'm going with Portman to win the prize this year, if for no other reason than hers was the "more showy" part of the two, but I would not be even slightly surprised if the well-liked Bening wins her first Academy Award after several nominations.
Actress in a Supporting Role:
Amy Adams in "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo in "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom"
Melissa Leo is a fine veteran actor with a number of credits under her belt, plus a previous Oscar nomination. For the last couple of months, she's been considered the front-runner for this year's Academy Award -- again, I wouldn't be surprised to see her pick up the trophy.
But my choice is Hailee Steinfeld for her work in "True Grit." Steinfeld shows a strength and maturity in her performance that belies her youth. Indeed, if I had to name my favorite performance by any actor in any movie this year, I think it was hers.
"Black Swan" Darren Aronofsky
"The Fighter" David O. Russell
"The King's Speech" Tom Hooper
"The Social Network" David Fincher
"True Grit" Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
The directing Oscar was Fincher's to lose for the longest time -- well, actually it was Christopher Nolan's for his work on "Inception," but then Nolan wasn't even nominated -- so when Hooper's name was the one called at the Director's Guild awards in January, it was indeed an upset, one that has turned this race upside-down.
With the momentum that "The King's Speech" has built throughout the awards season, it looks like an almost-foregone conclusion that Hooper will be taking home the trophy.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay):
"127 Hours" Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
"The Social Network" Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
"Toy Story 3" Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
"True Grit" Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"Winter's Bone" Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
This is the easiest category to peg. Sorkin's script for "The Social Network" has claimed almost every major prize, including the Writer's Guild award. The rest of the nominees are all great scripts to be sure, but none of them stand a chance this year.
Writing (Original Screenplay):
"Another Year" Written by Mike Leigh
"The Fighter" Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
"Inception" Written by Christopher Nolan
"The Kids Are All Right" Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
"The King's Speech" Screenplay by David Seidler
"Inception" was being hailed early-on as Oscar bait, with Christopher Nolan's direction and screenplay receiving the lion's share of praise. As time has passed, however, it has been shunted to the side of the road in favor of other films. The Best Original Screenplay nomination is the film's best chance of taking home a major trophy, and I think Nolan's complex tale will win. But, if "The King's Speech" gets on a roll, David Seidler has an excellent chance of sneaking in and taking the Oscar.
Animated Feature Film:
"How to Train Your Dragon" Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
"The Illusionist" Sylvain Chomet
"Toy Story 3" Lee Unkrich
Disney/Pixar spent a lot of money on an Oscar campaign for "Toy Story 3," aiming for recognition as a legitimate Best Picture contender. While I thought "Toy Story 3" was among the year's best movies -- funny, wise and deeply emotional -- and did indeed deserve the nomination it did receive, I don't think an industry that depends on the "human factor" when it comes to film production is remotely ready to give their top prize to a motion picture that most people in the business still think was conceived and assembled inside a storm of electrons. Disney/Pixar will -- for the sixth time -- have to make do with the Best Animated Feature trophy.
"Black Swan" Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
"The Fighter" David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
"Inception" Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
"The Kids Are All Right" Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
"The King's Speech" Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
"127 Hours" Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
"The Social Network" Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
"Toy Story 3" Darla K. Anderson, Producer
"True Grit" Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
"Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers
Most Hollywood types have few quibbles with this list; indeed there's something for everyone among this year's nominees -- major studio releases, independent pictures, massive blockbuster hits, small-scale successes. That being said, there are only two or three movies that have any real shot at winning -- and when you consider that "The King's Speech" has pulled in the bulk of the industry prizes over the last weeks, including the coveted Producers Guild award, all signs point to it winning Best Picture.
The 83rd Academy Awards air Sunday at 7 p.m. on ABC.