Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pick Clooney, Davis among few reel races

OK, just three days to the Academy Awards, so here's to Oscar, Billy Crystal and perhaps the easiest major ballot to forecast in years.

In a bow to Crystal, making his ninth hosting appearance on Sunday night's 84th annual extravaganza, please know we're usually pretty "mahvelous" in these prognostications and have been for decades. This year, however, seems almost simplistic, coming out of a 2011 that saw only a handful of really special films. That should allow "The Artist" -- silent, black and white, and musically exuberant --to become the surefire winner for Best Picture, and its creative force, Michael Hazanavicius, to waltz to the awards podium as Best Director.

A bit earlier in Sunday's telecast, "The Artist" and writer/helmer Hazanavicius likely also will be involved in two of only three extremely close races, at least in the eight major categories. One, of course, will be against the year's other truly top-notch movie, "The Descendants," in a seriously tight run for Best Actor between George Clooney and Jean Dujardin (below left, with co-star and supporting actress nominee Berenice Bejo).

The Oscar frontrunner's other monumental battle pits Hazanavicius and legendary Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris") for Best Original Screenplay.

Otherwise, Best Actress candidates and friends Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady") and Viola Davis ("The Help") probably present the evening's stiffest competition, as a Prime Minister and maid, respectively. Here's who'll reign in these biggies and in some less publicized contests:

Best Actor, George Clooney, "The Descendants"; Best Actress, Viola Davis, "The Help"; Supporting Actor, Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"; Supporting Actress, Octavia Spencer (above right with Davis), "The Help."

Adapted Screenplay, Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, "The Descendants"; Original Screenplay, Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"; Foreign Language Film, "A Separation"; Animated Feature, "Rango" (in perhaps the weakest animation field since this category's inception in 2001).

Documentary Feature, "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"; Original Song, "Muppet or Man" ("The Muppets"); Original Score, Ludovic Bource, "The Artist."

Art Direction, Dante Ferretti (design) and Francesca Lo Schiavo (sets), "Hugo"; Cinematography, Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"; Editing, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michael Hazanavicius, "The Artist."

Hey, you're on your own for the rest.