Dann pegs 'Avatar,' 'Hurt Locker' as best bets for the final Oscar cut
If things go down as I suspect they will at the 82nd annual Oscar nominations announcement Tuesday morning, it'll be a battle of the ex-spouses as James Cameron's science-fiction thriller "Avatar" goes head-to-head for best picture with Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker."
Those are the two guaranteed leading contenders for the big enchilada.
What will win? "Avatar," the highest-grossing movie in the history of Earth? Or "Hurt Locker," the most acclaimed drama by major film critics organizations, such as Chicago's?
We'll see when ABC broadcasts the Oscars ceremony live on March 7.
Meanwhile, here are my predictions for the contenders for golden statutes in the top categories.
Best Picture: The can't-miss nominees will be "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious" and "Up in the Air."
As Oscar fans know, Academy bosses have mandated that 10 movies shall be nominated for best picture this year, in an attempt to pump interest in the static ceremony. This is hardly something new.
Ten best picture nominees were common during the '30s and '40s. The first Oscars only had three movies in contention for best picture. In 1935, there were 12 films nominated.
So, what will fill the remaining five slots Tuesday?
My guess: "A Serious Man," "An Education," "Invictus," "Star Trek" and "Up," the guaranteed winner in the animated feature category.
(Note: If Oscar voters see the wisdom in confining "Up" to the animation category, its slot will be filled by "A Single Man" or "District 9.")
And if the popular over-the-top comedy "The Hangover" actually gets a nod, all bets are off at awards time.
Best Actor: At this juncture, the race pits George Clooney's corporate terminator in "Up in the Air" against Jeff Bridges' alcoholic country-western singer in "Crazy Heart."
Bridges is the current favorite, having won both Golden Globes and SAG awards. But we've seen this broken-down musician on the comeback trail a few times before. Clooney's character is fresh and timely, and will be the only serious threat to Bridges.
Other nominees will be Michael Stuhlbarg as the domestically besieged Jew in "A Serious Man," Colin Firth as the suicidal gay college professor in "A Single Man," and Jeremy Renner as the adrenaline junkie U.S. soldier in "The Hurt Locker."
Should the stars of the independent "man" movies - "Serious Man" and "Single Man" - fail to be nominated, Morgan Freeman will slip into the slot as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus."
Best Actress: Who would have thought that the serial star of stupid romantic comedies would emerge as a leading contender for best actress?
Sandra Bullock's fierce Southern mom in "The Blind Side" has stiff competition against Meryl Streep's flamboyant Julia Child in "Julie & Julia" (her 16th nom), Carey Mulligan's endearing Brit teenager receiving "An Education," Gabourey Sidibe's pregnant teen in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and Helen Mirren's wife of Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station."
An outside spoiler could be Emily Blunt as "The Young Victoria."
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz's savage Nazi officer in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" has the Oscar locked, stocked and over a barrel.
The other candidates will be Matt Damon's burly soccer star in "Invictus," Woody Harrelson's military harbinger of the doomed in "The Messenger," Stanley Tucci's creepy serial killer in "The Lovely Bones" and Christopher Plummer's Tolstoy in "The Last Station."
Two outside shots are Christian McKay as Orson Welles in "Me and Orson Welles," plus Alfred Molina as the dazed dad in "An Education."
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique has this one bundled up as the irresponsible, selfish mom in "Precious."
Vera Farmiga's jet-setting executive and Anna Kendrick's computer-smart/life inexperienced exec will be nominated from "Up in the Air." Julianne Moore's aging boozer in "A Single Man" and Samantha Morton's bold girlfriend in "The Messenger" will complete the noms.
An outside shot goes to Diane Kruger's vengeful theater owner in "Inglourious Basterds."
Best Director: "Avatar" Director James Cameron can expect to go up against his third wife - he's on No. 5 now - "Hurt Locker's" Kathryn Bigelow. Also nominated will be Lee Daniels for "Precious," Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air" and Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds."
If there can be an outside shot here, as unlikely as it seems, it will be Academy fave Clint Eastwood for "Invictus." Way, way outside shots go to Neill Blomkamp for "District 9" and designer Tom Ford for his stylish "A Single Man."
Animated feature: "Coraline," "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Up."