Any year in which George Clooney and Brad Pitt are competing for an Oscar, or where gender identity (“Albert Nobbs”), racism (“The Help”), post-9/11 pain (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”), the cost of pro sports (“Moneyball”) and illegal immigration (“A Better Life”) are prevalent themes can’t be described as a quiet one for the Academy Awards.
Yet a silent film is a major player at the 84th annual Academy Awards at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC.
“The Artist,” a winsome look at the rise and fall of a silent screen star, has become the big talk of the 2012 awards season. It has earned only about $25 million, but it was showered with 10 Oscar nominations – including one for best actor front-runner Jean Dujardin, who has the breezy charm of Gene Kelly.
Can “The Artist,” an ultimate underdog grab best picture honors? Or will the top prize go to weightier fare such as “The Descendants,” a poignant family portrait led by George Clooney, or “The Help,” a box-office hit elevated by the power of its three actress nominees? Here are predictions on what’s likely to happen:
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
“Midnight in Paris”
“The Tree of Life”
Will win: In a year when one nominee that looks good on paper was clobbered by bad reviews (the Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock-starring “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”) and another was underappreciated for its classic style (“War Horse”), the competition here is mostly between the fizzy joys of “The Artist,” the multi-layered drama of “The Descendants” and “The Help,” and the lovely precision of “Hugo.” Expect “The Artist” to prevail, especially because Oscar voters can’t resist a movie that celebrates their own craft.
Should win: “The Descendants,” another excellent snapshot of the human heart from director Alexander Payne. It conveys the magnificent, tragic messiness of life through the story of a husband and father coping with revelations in the wake of his wife’s devastating coma.
Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
Will win: George Clooney has never been better. And goodness knows Gary Oldman deserves to be recognized for decades of superb acting. But when a performer commands a movie with such throwaway grace, the Oscars tend to give him the gold. Jean Dujardin will be honored for world-class style, delivering sweet dance moves and making silent films cool again.
Should win: Clooney, who scrapped his debonair confidence and dug deep for sorrow, jealousy and wisdom in an average man struggling to do his best in a bad situation.
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
Will win: Although Meryl Streep is superb and emotionally on target as Margaret Thatcher, she is burdened with a movie that feels more like a series of pencil sketches than a finished portrait. Viola Davis, on the other hand, takes viewers on a journey into the soul of her character, showing us both the guarded outward composure of an African-American maid in the 1960s South and the strength, anger, tenderness and complexity that define her inner life. Davis is bound to take home the statuette.
Should win: Davis, a phenomenal actress who showed what she can do with a starring role.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Will win: Christopher Plummer is on an award-season winning streak. The veteran actor is finally being acknowledged for a lifetime of achievement, as well as his understated portrayal of a senior citizen who comes out as a gay man to live his final years with grace and honesty.
Should win: Plummer is a fine choice, but if it’s time to single out a legend who’s never won, why not Max von Sydow, who is amazing as a man swaddled in a grief that’s rendered him mute. It would be an incredible upset by an actor in a flawed movie, but he deserves it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
Will win: Octavia Spencer, for her captivating blend of humor and suppressed fury as a maid with an unforgettable recipe for those who’ve wronged her. It’s the sort of breakthrough performance that makes Oscar voters sit up and pay attention.
Should win: Janet McTeer, who quietly steals her movie from Glenn Close. As a woman impersonating a man in late 19th-century Ireland to earn a living wage, McTeer’s immersion in male facial expressions and body movements is beyond impressive.
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
Will win: Michel Hazanavicius. By relying on the silent treatment, the French director created a visual treat and a splendid reminder of how movies seduced the world in the days before sound ruled the industry. It’s filmmaking stripped down to its essentials and sprinkled with the flair of a cinematic maestro.
Should win: Alexander Payne, who’s become a bard of contemporary American life. No other director has populated so many movies with such a rich tapestry of characters and such respect for the dramas of ordinary lives. Payne has a Shakespearean appetite for the complicated nature of behavior and an internal GPS for finding the truth of a situation.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“The Descendants,” Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
“Hugo,” John Logan
“The Ides of March,” George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
“Moneyball,” Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan
Will win: Somebody turned a saga of pro-sports financing into a meditation on mid-life ambition, stunted dreams and the pursuit of happiness? You just hit a grand slam, “Moneyball” guys.
Should win: “Moneyball” is the MVP. It’s a throwback to the 1970s filmmaking that took its time to tell a story and immersed itself in the language of real situations.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius
“Bridesmaids,” Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
“Margin Call,” J.C. Chandor
“Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen
“A Separation,” Asghar Farhadi
Will win: “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen’s humorous rumination on the intellectual implications of the grass always being greener in another era. Hollywood admires Allen’s ability to dream up a minor masterpiece every 10 years or so, like this time-traveling truffle that allows the Allen substitute, Owen Wilson, to rub shoulders with Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
Should win: “Bridesmaids.” With deceptive ease, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig created female characters who were outrageous. They deftly illustrate why the best comedies are grounded in real-life responses to envy, insecurity, self-delusion, self-loathing and acceptance – the five stages of hilarity.