And the gold medal, er, Oscar goes to…

Brian D. Johnson predicts the Academy Award winners—and liveblogs tonight’s show

oscarsFor BDJ’s live blog of the Oscars, go to LIVE BLOG….

Oscar Sunday!  I know it’s not as big as Super Bowl Sunday. And after the Winter Olympics, it’s pretty hard to get into the mood for another Epic TV Event, especially one with no sports—only opening and closing ceremonies. But with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin at the helm (will the opening monologue become an opening dialogue?), tonight’s show should be good for a few laughs. Anticipating the Oscars, of course, is always more exciting than enduring them. But given the David-and-Goliath duel between Avatar and Hurt Locker, and their ex-spouse directors, there’s a nifty element of drama. And if we’re lucky, there may even be the odd wardrobe malfunction.  I’ll be live-blogging the Oscars tonight, starting at 7 p.m. So for those of you who get a charge of multitasking—surfing the web while watching TV, tweeting, and shoveling nachos—consider this an opportunity. I thought of live-blogging the show from home, but that that seemed too depressing and studious. So to raise the bar, so to speak,  I’ll be typing from a crowded Oscar party, trying not to spill my drink on my laptop, while abstaining from  that ongoing war between those who want to talk at the screen and those who want to watch in reverent silence, afraid they’ll miss something.

For the record, I’m about to trot out my predictions. But don’t consider this a cheat sheet for your Oscar party pool, because I’m not going to weigh in on the marginal categories (none of us have a clue, really). And I have never won an Oscar pool in my life. However, I will predict that, at some point in the evening, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will wear 3-glasses and speak Na’vi. Jeff Bridges will not wear a conventional tuxedo. Mo’Nique will give an inspirational acceptance speech that will make make us wonder what drug she’s on and where can we get some? Jim Cameron will still have the same bad non-haircut. There will be a photo opportunity in which he kisses his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow. On the red carpet, Brangelina will deserve an honorary Oscar for Performance by a Pretend Couple. And the person who receives the Oscar for best documentary short will give the longest and most tedious speech.

As for the awards, here are my votes on who will win, and should win, the major categories:

Best Picture

Because there are 10 nominees this year, and there’s a wacky new preferential voting system that allows second and third choices to vault into the running on ballots whose first choices have been eliminated  (you still with me?), anything could happen. I think Avatar will win—and should win, not because it’s a perfect film, but because it’s a humongous accomplishment, and it has brought magic back to the tired world of Hollywood spectacle. But I wouldn’t want to put money on this one. Hurt Locker ‘s slingshot has momentum and may well carry the day.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow will win for Hurt Locker for the same reason that Avatar should win Best Picture: she’s making history, and Oscar loves history. Bigelow won who the Directors Guild prize, a reliable bellwether, and if she wins tonight she’ll become the first female director to win an Oscar.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges seems to have a lock on this one for his sly, Methody performance as a burnt-out country singer in Crazy Heart. He deserves it. But with this role, he also defines “sentimental favorite.” Oscar loves nothing better than actor who sings while portraying  a character with addiction issues. (witness Jamie Foxx in Ray). Crazy Heart isn’t half as good as its star, but that’s the story across the board with this year’s Oscars, as is often the case—the best performances are not to be found in the best pictures. The Academy tends to vote for the best character, not the best actor or actress. No matter how good George Clooney is in Up In the Air (very good, I’d say), Americans are much happier voting for a bourbon-soaked good ol’ boy than an entitled high-flyer who fires people for a living only to find an empty room inside his soul.

Best Actress

Same deal here. It’s down to a cage match between Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side and Meryl Streep for Julia. In its populist wisdom, the Academy will choose the rich’n’sexy Southern renegade who shows a big slow black guy how to play football over the New York gourmand who wrestles coq-au-vin to the ground. With her bravura performance role as a ballsy dame who takes the world by storm, Bullock is basically doing an Erin Brockovich. It’s a game performance. But the movie is wretched, one of the most preposterous “true” stories ever told, one that avoids all the tough issues it raises, and has no business on the Best Picture list, even with 10 nominees. So, yes, Bullock will win. But Carey Mulligan should win for her more nuanced, note-perfect performance in An Education.

Best Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz will win for his multilingual tour de force as an SS psychopath in Inglourious Basterds. But having recently seen The Messenger, I’m a big fan of that movie and Woody Harrelson’s complex portrayal of a bottled-up military man. Now that Jeff Bridges is about to lose his status as Hollywood’s most under-appreciated actor, it’s time for Harrelson to take his place.

Best Supporting Actress

Mo’Nique’s victory for Precious is a foregone conclusion. The only suspense lies in just what she’ll do from the podium as a follow-up to her barn-burning speech at the Golden Globes. Whatever happens, it will likely be the emotional high-point of the evening, and it will come early.

Best Animated Feature

Up, which is also nominated for Best Picture, will win. It’s the kind of heart-warming family-friendly feature that will find an consensus among the Academy. And it’s deserving choice. But my vote would go to Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which breaks the sentimental mold of blockbuster animation with a subversive wit—and also contains the best performance of George Clooney’s career.

Best Documentary Feature

The Cove, an Oceans 11-styled investigation into Japan’s secret dolphin slaughter, will and should win. Louie Psihoyos, making his feature-directing debut, got all tricked out with high-tech spy gear by Industrial Light and Magic, and his special ops crew included a world champion free diver. It’s rare to see a documentary that succeeds both as a thriller and an earnest environmental exposé.

Best Foreign Language Feature

A White Ribbon, Michael Haneke’s austere and exquisite black-and-white period piece about mysterious crimes in a small German town, will win. It’s main challenger is A Prophet, Jacques Audiard’s raw, powerful prison drama. This is a contest between the cerebral (Haneke) and the visceral (Audiard). Personally, I think A Prophet is the better film.

Adapted Screenplay

With Precious, An Education and District 9 in the running, this is a strong field. But Jason Reitman’s free-wheeling adaptation of Sheldon Turner’s novel, Up in the Air, will and should win. This is the obvious category where there’s room for the Academy to give Reitman’s smart comedy-with-gravitas some credit.

Original Screenplay

The Oscar will go to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, largely for its flamboyant ingenuity. But it should go to the Coen brothers for the acid wit of A Serious Man.

Stay tuned for the live blog . . .

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.