With no further delay, here are my predictions:
This award is pretty well locked up. The Artist is a black and white silent film that tells the story of a Hollywood actor in 1927 who fears that his career will end with the rise of talking pictures. In the history of the Academy Awards, Best Picture has often gone to a film that had a wide release and is well-known to mainstream audiences like Gone With Wind (1939), The Sound of Music (1965), or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). However, once in awhile, a little-known, yet critically-acclaimed independent film with a limited release takes home the top prize, like Chariots of Fire (1981), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), or The Hurt Locker (2009). This is definitely one of those years. The Artist is completely charming, romantic, and undeniably fun. It's full of new (and very talented) actors, but there's also a number of familiar faces like John Goodman and James Cromwell. It definitely deserves to win.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Again, this is a no-brainer to predict. Dujardin has taken home every Lead Actor award there is this season. He anchors the film with a hilarious and touching performance.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Viola Davis in The Help
I had a very hard time with this one. I saw The Iron Lady just a few days ago and afterwards I was certain that Meryl Streep was definitely going to win. Her performance as Margaret Thatcher is uncanny and she absolutely carries the film. (Though her performance is incredible, the film itself has narrative problems, which is a different conversation altogether...) So, two days ago I so was certain that Streep was going to win, that I had a hard time remembering who else was nominated. When I looked at the list again I remembered Davis' incredible performance in The Help as Aiblileen, the maid to a wealthy, ungrateful family in Mississippi in the 60's. The Help came out in August, which is not a typical release date for an Oscar contender, so when I originally saw it I didn't have any preconceived Awards Season influences on my mind. However, in hindsight, Davis is the clear winner. She also has two other factors that work in her favor: 1) She was nominated three years ago for her incredible performance in Doubt, which the Academy voters certainly have not forgotten and 2) She is the only actress whose film is also nominated for Best Picture, which is extremely uncommon, especially now that there are 10 pictures in the category. As a bonus, Davis has won a number of awards already this year and her speeches have been beautiful.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Christopher Plummer in Beginnners
It's about time Mr. Plummer won an Oscar. The Academy loves actors who play roles that defy their established images. In Beginners he plays widower in his 70s who comes out as gay. He is the father of the lead character, played by the adorable and talented Ewan McGregor. Their on-screen chemistry is amazing. Beginners is one of the most charming films of the year.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Octavia Spencer in The Help
Again, this is a no-brainer. Spencer plays Minny, the sassy, strong maid who works for a lonely aspiring socialite, played by Jessica Chastain. Chastian is nominated in this category as well. These two actresses light up the screen together. Spencer has a great sense of comedic timing, but she really shines in the dramatic scenes, where we see her talk about her abusive husband and the desparate situation her children are in. It's always nice to see a new face win an Oscar because it ensures that we will see a lot more from her in the future.
The film that wins Best Picture almost always wins Best Director because the categories are so closely linked. The Artist is the one of the most unique and original films to be made in a long time. It was very brave to direct a silent black and white film in 2011 and Hazanavicius did it beautifully and will be appropriately rewarded for his visionary work.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
I don't know if I've ever seen a film that made me smile from start to finish the way Midnight in Paris did. Woody Allen is one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. He has a sense of humor that appeals to everyone and his characters are memorable and lovable in this movie. Allen also has a knack for taking undervalued, mainstream actors and turning them into real actors and he certainly worked his magic on Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash for The Descendants
I do not love The Descendants the way the critics do. It's one of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year. I don't hate it, but I don't think it's one of the best films of the year. It's amazing how far a film can go when its star is George Clooney. His performance is great, but I wasn't blown away by it, the way everyone else seems to be. I just get annoyed when a movie makes it to awards season because its head-liner is a mega-star. The film would not have gotten the attention it has if it has lesser-known actor. However, its writing is actually really great. Alexander Payne, who also directed the film, has an ear for witty, realistic dialogue. The characters are well-drawn, particularly Clooney's teenage daughter, played by Shailene Woodley whose performance elevates to film to new heights.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
You may notice the absence of a Pixar film in this category this year. Pixar's only offering this year was Cars 2, which failed to meet the high caliber of all their other films. Rango, however is a fun film about a chameleon who becomes sheriff of an town in the Wild West. Its A-List voice talent includes Johnny Depp, Abigail Breslin, and Isla Fisher.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Loduvic Burce for The Artist
Silent films sink or swim depending on their score. The music is a main character in silent films and The Artist's score top-notch.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Man or Muppet" from The Muppets
There are only two songs nominated this year and this is the clear winner. It's sung by Jason Segel and Jim Parsons in a hilarious scene where their contemplate their existences. Are they men or are they Muppets? I dare you to watch the video and try not to smile: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WWWTW1P8rQ
This award could go to either The Artist or Hugo. Both films are visually stunning. However, I think The Artist has the upper hand on this one. Its lighting is beautiful and it's shot beautifully. However, Hugo could upset this category.
BEST ART DIRECTION
Again, this award could go to either The Artist or Hugo. However, in modern day film making I think that color plays a huge part in Art Direction and The Artist is black and white. Art Direction is the combination of all the visual elements in the film- the sets, the set dressings, the harmony of the colors on screen, etc.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Once again, this one is a tight race between The Artist and Hugo. But, again, the use of color is important to costume designing in this day and age of filmmaking.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A Separation, Iran
A Separation is a powerful drama about the tumultuous relation between a husband and wife and the events that endanger their marriage. Their domestic struggles are multiplied by the added pressure of the expectations of Iranian society.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
As an avid Potter fan, I believe that the series deserves much more respect from the Academy than it has received over the last ten years. They've received a few noms here and there, but have never won anything. It's a piddly little award to win, but they deserve to get at least one, especially since they are the clear winners in this category. The Iron Lady does display some incredible age make-up to make Meryl Streep look like Thatcher at many stages of her life, but Deathly Hallows' make-up was so much more involved. They created about 30 Goblins for the Gringotts break-out scene; gave the entire cast battle wounds that got progressively worse as the battle raged on; made Ralph Fiennes near-impossible to recognize as Lord Voldemort; and, most impressively, the age make-up on Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, and Bonnie Wright in the epilogue when they are meant to be 19 years older.
BEST SOUND EDITING
When there's a epic war movie nominated in this category it's usually the clear winner, and such is the case with War Horse. If a sound editor has done their job right, the audience doesn't even know it's there. The battles in War Horse are the best parts of the film, with the explosions, cries of men and horses, and deadly silence in the after math.
BEST SOUND MIXING
Sound mixing involves orchestrating all the elements of sound in the film (music, sound effects, and dialogue) and finding the right balance between all of them. Again, the battle in War Horse are very powerful, which is, in part, due to the sound.
BEST FILM EDITING
Director John Favreau once said, "Shooting a film on set is like shopping for groceries and editing the film is like cooking the meal." A film begins to take shape in the editing room. A silent film is all about the visuals and The Artist is the clear winner this year.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
I wish Harry Potter could win another award, but the incredible use of motion-capture in Rise of the Planet of the Apes surpasses Potter. In the film the genetically enhanced ape, Caesar, is played by actor Andy Serkis. Serkis is well-known for his work in motion capture, particularly his work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I won't spend time explaining the science of motion capture here, but if you want to learn about it you can read my post that describes it in great detail. I actually wrote this post over the summer when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released. Read it here.
And there you have it. My predictions for the 2012 Academy Awards.
Tell me your predictions in the comments!