Forget the Winter Olympics, people. The Stanley Cup is months away and already out of reach for the Oilers. The Super Bowl is last month's news. Tomorrow night is the Super Bowl of movies. Ladies and gentlemen, get your snacks and scorecards ready for the 82nd annual Academy Awards.
While I grew up on Billy Crystal's goofy song and dance montages from the 1990s, I have great expectations for what should be an evening of witty repartee and otherwise classy hosting by the smart duo of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.
While not everyone can stomach watching three hours or more of self-congratulatory celebrities thanking their mothers and agents, most moviegoers have an opinion about who should and will win themselves a shiny new bookend. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has already collected all 6,000 voting ballots and the fine accountants at PriceWaterhouseCoopers have counted them out. Really, the whole point is to watch and see how accurate of a fortune teller you are.
Disclaimer: my record for prediction is as spotty as a Dalmatian. Viewer discretion is advised.
A red carpet spotted with champagne and dirt
It's been more than two decades since there was more than one host but there are bigger and stranger changes at hand. For the first time since Casablanca won in 1943 there are 10 nominees for Best Picture, meaning the vote spread is going to be tricky to predict unless you have a firm grasp of the obvious. Concurrently there won't be any live performances of the Best Original Song nominees, an obvious effort to cut down on expenses and the length of the show itself.
In that same vein, most winners will only get 45 seconds of camera time to give their speeches. They won't even get to do the victory walk as there will be special presenters milling around in the audience ready to hand over a trophy in the interest of expediency. I still expect that some of the big winners will get to march up to the retractable podium, though. Can you imagine how different James Cameron's "I'm the king of the world" speech would be if it came while he was standing at seat 47D?
Many of the honorary and technical Oscars have already been handed out too. This is especially bothersome as I have waited for years to see Roger Corman get a golden boy of his own. It would have been wonderful to see the King of the Bs receive his Honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar from an assemblage of students from the unofficial Corman Film School (including James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and several other very recognizable names). Hollywood has a lot to learn from the man who has directed dozens of movies, produced hundreds of others and never once lost a dime.
This is also going to be the last year of the Barbara Walters Oscar Special, ending an almost 30-year tradition of interviewing famous people and trying to make them cry.
The big scorecard
Unless you are immersed in the world of sound mixing or costume design, there is no point discussing those categories. Let's skip to acting, writing, directing and producing, including animated feature.
My strong hope is that this will finally be the year Jeff Bridges is recognized for his acting. The dude has chops and does more to improve the films he's in than most other actors (are you listening, Shia LaBeouf?). For Crazy Heart, the buzz is very good, plus it's an artist redemption story, something AMPAS loves. He's been on the Oscar ballot five times now and, considering he's up against two previous winners in Morgan Freeman and George Clooney and two long shots in Jeremy Renner and Colin Firth, he is the safe bet.
Gabourey Sidibe had better take the Best Actress Oscar for Precious, even though she has yet to win any major prizes. At this point she seems like a dark horse candidate except that everyone is rooting for her. Her performance moved many people and there has to be some accounting for that. Failing this, I'm hoping Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep get more votes than Sandra Bullock. Yes, The Blind Side was popular but smarmy and trite, not to mention that Bullock is not a very serious performer. I would rather a young and promising upstart like Carey Mulligan win.
As far as the supporting categories go, I'd love to see Stanley Tucci win but he won't, especially for the abysmal The Lovely Bones. Christoph Waltz has been parading his Nazi character from Inglourious Basterds all over town. He's already danced his way to a few prizes, further proof that playing insidious bad guys is one sure route to gold. Frankly I want Christopher Plummer to stand up when his name is called. He's this country's Sidney Poitier, a dignified classically trained actor's actor who has proven himself time and again in flavourful bit parts and revered roles alike. Even Woody Harrelson would OK, but not Matt Damon.
All of the nominees for Best Supporting Actress are equally as deserving but Mo'Nique will likely get it for Precious. If not her then it will be Anna Kendrick for her role in Up in the Air. That character experiences quite an arc and she pulls it off in a movie that is well made and acclaimed for some reason that I can't quite fathom. Clooney carried its success on his shoulders, located just above the corners of his eyes.
Best Writing? The only real writers on this list are the Coen brothers who scribed A Serious Man. Quentin Tarantino left most of his trademark superb dialogue inside his pen when he wrote Basterds. The best adaptation far and away is District 9, the most fascinating and rock-solid screenplay since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
This has to be the easiest prediction in history. The best director this year is Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Her ex-husband Cameron is good, but only technically so. The only reason he gets any praise is because he can do the kinds of things that George Lucas wishes he could do: make a visually powerful, compelling and coherent blockbuster out of absolutely nothing. Cameron already has his director prize for Titanic. I hope he cherished the moment.
That being said, he will probably proclaim, "I'm the king of Pandora!" when Avatar proves why he took almost 12 years to bring one film to fruition. Cameron is no Orson Welles but this is an epic accomplishment the likes of which few mere mortals could ever reproduce. He had to invent technology in order to make it. It has grossed more than $1 billion dollars worldwide. It has affected people psychologically. It has been on the top-five list for almost three months now. To deny that kind of success would negate everything Hollywood stands for. Avatar must win for Best Picture or my name is Alan B. Smithee.
The 82nd Academy Awards
Pre-show telecast on CTV starts at 6 p.m. Sunday with the awards ceremony from the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin
Best Picture nominees: A Serious Man, An Education, Avatar, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, The Blind Side, The Hurt Locker, Up, and Up in the Air