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The Lens: And the Oscar goes to ...

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 4, 2010 - As we come to the final round of Academy Award speculation, a strange pattern develops in our remaining categories. Pardon me if my selections below sound a little bit familiar, but this time around the Conventional Wisdom is probably right.

Not that there haven't been surprises. Remember last November when "Up In the Air" looked like it was unbeatable for best picture, best actor and probably best Ddirector?

What happened? Suddenly "Avatar" made a whole lot more money than any movie in recent memory (that's what they mean when they talk about "the future of cinema"), the largely unheralded "Crazy Heart" stole the acting thunder and even "The Hurt Locker," underreleased and unpromoted, spang back to life. "Up in the Air," a likable but underdeveloped movie, suddenly became everybody's third or fourth favorite movie of the year.

Which won't stop it from picking up the award for "best adapted screenplay," its sole honor for the night. And that's no small achievement for director Jason Reitman, who has reportedly been a little chilly about having to share the stage with credited co-author Sheldon Turner. Since the Writers Guild will only allow a director to get a writing credit if the director can prove he or she wrote more than half of the finished film, it's fair to assume that he carried most of the load here. Let's see how graciously he handles the acceptance speech.

No such backstage fighting hampers "The Hurt Locker," which should pick up "best original screenplay." Despite a few last minute complaints about the film's accuracy, voters will be impressed by writer Mark Boal's journalistic background, giving the film the credibility to back up Kathryn Bigelow's action-movie chops.

Best Supporting Actress. Mo'Nique, for "Precious." Sure, Penelope Cruz was the best part of "Nine," but she won this thing last year. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick cancel each other out. And I'd love to see Maggie Gyllenhaal get the nod, but ... it's going to be Mo'Nique.

Best Actress: Like everyone else, you were probably stunned when Sandra Bullock won a Golden Globe. "That's just the Foreign Press Association," you thought. "No one takes them seriously." And then this happened. Here's how it went down: Meryl Streep will be nominated again and again whether she's playing a nun, singing ABBA songs or imitating Dan Aykroyd. Because she's Meryl Streep and she deserves it. She doesn't need the award. Same goes for Helen Mirren, who may become just as much of a tradition soon. Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe are newcomers, barely out of high school as far as academy voters are concerned. That left room for Sandra Bullock, a bland "populist" choice in a movie no one cared much about. It's Miss Congeniality's revenge.

And speaking of revenge, the battle for best director has widely been categorized as a Celebrity Grudgematch between former spouses Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron. This is something of an exaggeration, since their marriage was 20 years and lasted only slightly longer than a double feature of "Titanic" and "Avatar." Bigelow is a talented (if inconsistent) director; Cameron is a huckster in the tradition of P.T. Barnum, William Castle and Cecil B. DeMille. He may be rewarded at the box office, but Bigelow will be the one to carry the trophy this weekend.

And finally ... best picture. This, too, is seen as a close race between "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker," but, as reported earlier, the academy's new 10-to-a-ticket voting procedure could set the stage for an upset. That's what Harvey Weinstein is hoping for, and I'd be pretty amused if "Inglourious Basterds" slipped through the cracks that way. But I wouldn't bet on it, as a lot of those 2nd and 3rd round votes are just as likely to go to "Avatar." Expect the "future of cinema" narrative to win the day - if by "future of cinema" you mean "truckloads of money rolling in" or maybe "the same old 3-D package Hollywood has been pulling out since 1952".

To Sum Up:

  • Best Picture: "Avatar"
  • Best Director: Katheryn Bigelow "The Hurt Locker"
  • Best Actor: Jeff Bridges
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
  • Best Actress: Sandra Bullock
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique
  • Best Original Screenplay: "The Hurt Locker"
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: "Up in the Air"
  • Best Animated Feature: "Up"
  • Best Foreign Language Film: "The White Ribbon"
  • Best Documentary Feature: "The Cove"
  • Best Documentary Short: "Music by Prudence"
  • Best Live Action Short Film: "Kavi"
  • Best Animated Short Film: "A Matter of Loaf and Death"
  • Best Original Score: "Up"
  • Best Song: "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart"
  • Best Cinematography: "The White Ribbon"
  • Best Film Editing: "The Hurt Locker"
  • Best Art Direction: "Sherlock Holmes" (This is the only one I'm having second thoughts about, simply because it was such an awful film.)
  • Best Costume Design: "The Young Victoria"
  • Best Sound Editing: "Avatar"
  • Best Sound Mixing: "The Hurt Locker"
  • Best Visual Effects: "Avatar"
  • Best Makeup: "Star Trek"

And one final complaint about the Academy's decision to give the honorary/lifetime achievement awards in a non-televized ceremony. This year's recipients - Gordon Willis, Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall!! - deserve better.
May the grumbling commence.

The Lens blog is provided by Cinema St. Louis.

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