Who Will Win?

featureHave I got a bet for you. Bet the house. Bet the dog. Bet your husband’s insurance.

There is a lock Oscar-winner this year, and it will make history. Kathryn Bigelow will win the Academy Award for directing “The Hurt Locker.” It will be the first time ever that a woman wins the Academy Award for Best Director of the Year.

If you find someone who loves “Avatar” and worships its director, James Cameron, reel him in. Cameron is not going to win this year.

Bigelow — Cameron’s ex-wife — is going to get custody of a new golden statuette. Stick that in your avatar, Jimmy.

In China, it’s the year of the tiger; in Hollywood, it’s the year of the tigress.

All the momentum is behind Bigelow. She won the Directors Guild of America award for “The Hurt Locker.” Since 1948, whoever has garnered the Directors Guild award has gone on to win the Academy Award for direction 55 out of 61 times. That’s 55-6.

feature-2But, most of all, Bigelow deserves the honor. There wasn’t a hint of her prowess when she helmed her last theatrical movie, “K-19: the Widowmaker” with Harrison Ford, in 2002. It was mediocre. But “The Hurt Locker” is a terrific movie, and Bigelow’s direction is masterly.

If Bigelow is a lock, three contenders in other categories also seem assured. Jeff Bridges will win as Best Actor, Christoph Waltz will win Best Supporting Actor, and Mo’Nique will win Best Supporting Actress.

Only two of the major six categories seem at all uncertain. Sandra Bullock is favored for Best Actress, and “Avatar” is favored for Best Picture. They’re strong favorites, but they could be upset.

Best Picture

Will actors sway the vote?

This year there are 10 nominations for Best Picture. The last time there were 10 nominees was in 1943 when “Casablanca” won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

This year’s list is a formidable one, although I would have liked “Star Trek” to be included. “Star Trek” probably will win the Oscar for makeup, but that’s no best picture nomination. Too bad.

Of the 10 up for best picture, the number can be whittled down to two contenders. “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” are in a fascinating competition.

If Hollywood, as usual, follows the money, “Avatar” will win.

“Avatar” is the greatest moneymaker of all time, although if ticket prices are adjusted, it’s around 20th. Still, Cameron, who directed “Titanic,” now has the top two grossing pictures ever.

It may be a losing proposition to try to make the argument against “Avatar” winning the Best Picture award, but a couple of facts may be relevant.

If “Avatar” wins, it would be the first movie to win the Oscar as Best Picture without any acting nominations or a writing nomination since 1933 when “Grand Hotel” won only Best Picture. That’s 77 years.

Director Cameron occasionally is pompous, which galls some voters. Also the voting by actors — a major group — often swings a selection of Oscar winners for Best Picture and Best Director.

Actors who turned directors often win. Examples are Robert Redford for “Ordinary People” (1980) — Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” was KO’d by the ordinary — Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” (1990), Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” (1995), and Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” (1992) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). The actors voted for one of their own.

In 2010 actors face the onslaught of CGI; how much will they resist it? No actors were nominated for “Avatar.” A lot of viewers have dismissed the script as shallow and simple. Will that matter?

“Avatar” is deserving because of its brilliant technical skill and its across-the-board popularity. That probably will be enough. But I hope not. For me “The Hurt Locker” was the best film of 2009. It succeeded on all levels. I think it will be a classic.

“The Hurt Locker” has two problems. First, it’s up against the machine, “Avatar.” Second is that perhaps not enough people have even seen the movie. If “The Hurt Locker” wins it would be the lowest-grossing movie since the black-and-white 1950s. It’s 131 on the list of moneymakers for 2009. That’s disheartening box office.

This may be the film where female voters decide the outcome. I hope they don’t waste their votes by casting ballots for “The Blind Side.”

One surprise is how female viewers have favorably reacted to “The Hurt Locker.” It’s about war and has intensity and violence. It shouldn’t appeal to the gentler sex. But women do like bad boys, and Jeremy Renner plays an ultimate bad boy, reckless and fascinating. And “The Hurt Locker” is an engrossing, compelling experience.

I would think “The Hurt Locker” has little chance against the big, bad CGI of “Avatar,” but little, bad Renner just may pull it off. And Bigelow just may be bigger this time than her ex.

Surprisingly “The Hurt Locker” won this year’s Producers Guild of America Award as Best Picture. That and Bigelow’s award from the Directors Guild may give one hope.

The only viable longshot is Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Many Jewish viewers absolutely love this revenge fantasy, and since the Jewish voters are a major bloc of voters, they can exert their influence.

But for me, it comes down to “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker.” In a way this reminds me of 1973 when “The Sting” competed with “The Exorcist” — popular entertainment versus an intense experience. I was in Hollywood and I felt the momentum for “The Sting,” but I stayed with my pick of “The Exorcist.” I got stung. It is not a fond memory.

Can I back a movie like “The Hurt Locker” that has made less than $13 million against “Avatar” that has made more than $600 million? Not with my head. “Avatar” should win. But my heart belongs to Bigelow.

Best Actor

Sixty-year-old Jeff Bridges will win for his gritty human performance as Bad Blake, a heavy-drinking, aging country singer in “Crazy Heart.”

Bridges has never won an Oscar, although he has been nominated four times: “The Contender” (2000), “Starman” (1984), “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974) and “The Last Picture Show” (1971).

Bridges gave a memorable performance as another musician in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” (1989), and his performance as “The Dude” in “The Big Lebowski” (1997) has become a cult classic.

Last year another veteran, Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler,” got floored by Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, but Bridges is much more popular in the industry than the erratic Rourke.

Jeremy Renner is the bomb in “The Hurt Locker” but has no chance. Bridges will rasp a happy tune.

Best Actress

This is a major category in which an upset is possible.

Sandra Bullock is the favorite for her crowd-pleasing portrayal of the real life Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side.” Bullock should win as the fairy godmother in the ghetto, who took an African American teenager — ultimately an NFL football player — into her home and family.

Bullock is an engaging actress, but there isn’t one memorable acting moment in the entire movie. If you compare Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning performance in “Erin Brockovich” (2000) and Bullock, you see an actress acting, and one cruising.

But Bullock is the beneficiary of a hugely popular movie and probably will prevail.

Her major opposition comes from Meryl Streep who gave the most infectious performance of the year as fabled Julia Childs in “Julie and Julia.” Most people think Streep has won recently, since she is nominated so often, but her last Academy Award was in 1982 for “Sophie’s Choice.” Twenty-seven years later, is it her time?

Bullock may win Best Actress and Worst Actress in the same year. She’s up for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actress in “All About Steve.” I expect Bullock to win the Oscar, but Streep could upset.

Best Supporting Actor

This award will go to Christoph Waltz for his ingratiating portrayal of the clever, insidious Nazi officer in “Inglourious Basterds.” It’s brimming with manic, vibrant personality.

I originally thought Stanley Tucci might contend for his excruciating performance as the evil child killer in “The Lovely Bones,” but the picture disappointed.

Woody Harrelson did a good job in “The Messenger” as the repressed military officer whose charge it is to deliver horrible news to loved ones. But the award belongs to Waltz.

Best Supporting Actress

This is no contest. This is another Oscar that already has its winner’s name on it — Mo’Nique.

Mo’Nique is a sure thing as the blistering, abusive mother who almost destroys her daughter in the movie “Precious.”

Vera Farmiga has no chance as the traveler in “Up in the Air,” but her performance and the response to it was one of my biggest lessons in years of film criticism.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer in a performance that separates male and female viewers more than Farmiga.

All the men I asked thought Farmiga was very sexy. One said he would crawl across broken glass for her.

Of the many women I asked about Farmiga, all of them thought she wasn’t sexy enough and George Clooney deserved better.

Farmiga doesn’t take a backseat to the fervor of partisan politics. She owns the backseat in many male fantasies. Men are Latin lovers; Vera is the truth.

But Mo’Nique wins the Oscar in a rout.

The Rest

Other likely winners: “The Cove” as Best Documentary, “The White Ribbon” as Best Foreign Film, “Avatar” for Best Visual Effects, “Star Trek” for Best Makeup, “Up in the Air” for Adapted Screenplay and “Up” for Best Animated Feature,

“Avatar” may roll over “The Hurt Locker,” but if so, Kathryn Bigelow will be standing tall, waving her golden statuette at the CGI express. Hurray for Hollywood!

Categories: Features