Will Win: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist"
Dujardin should ride the goodwill from his win at the Screen Actors Guild awards to victory here, announcing himself as the next big foreign star to hit the States. If you’re thinking, “nah, I’ve never even heard of that guy before,” think back to Marion Cotillard’s win for “La Vie En Rose” a few years back.
Could Win: George Clooney, “The Descendants”
The Academy loves them some George — the suave star has racked up seven nominations in the past seven years. His performance in “The Descendants” won numerous critics’ awards and he’s always good for a charming acceptance speech.
Should've Been Nominated: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”
A stacked category meant that there was also no room for Ryan Gosling in “Drive” or Michael Fassbender in “Shame,” but Shannon’s performance in this indie paranoia thriller overshadows them all. The Academy missed the boat on a legitimate tour de force.
Will Win: Viola Davis, “The Help”
Let’s see: crucial performance in a feel-good film? Check. Inspiring life story that will surely lead to a teary, emotional acceptance speech? Check. The chance to give Best Actress to an African-American for only the second time ever? Check. We’re done here.
Could Win: Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Once again Streep has elevated iffy material to Oscar heights. Nominating the iconic actress for anything she does seems to be a requirement now, but despite a record 17 nods, Streep only has two wins to her credit (ironically also giving her the record for most Oscar losses). Maybe the Academy will finally want to fix that.
Should've Been Nominated: Kirsten Dunst, “Melancholia”
I am convinced now that Dunst is not a universally terrible actress: she just requires oddly-specific, specifically-odd material. Her acclaimed performance held together the bizarre, memorable bit of Lars von Trier weirdness that was “Melancholia.”
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
As an elderly father who decides to finally come out to his son, Plummer gave the kind of subtle, heartfelt performance that he’s built a very long career on. He’s a beloved veteran with a whopping zero wins and at 82 would be the oldest Oscar winner ever. More snappy headlines for the trade papers!
Could Win: Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
The problem is that every argument for Plummer also works for von Sydow. They’re even the same age. And how cool would it be for the guy from “The Seventh Seal” to finally win an Oscar? The main difference here is that most people like “Beginners,” whereas “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” has been derided.
Should've Been Nominated: Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life”
It breaks my heart to leave out Albert Brooks’ villainous turn in “Drive,” but people don’t realize just how good a year Brad Pitt had. His performance in “Moneyball” was wonderful, yes, but as a harsh, demanding father in Terrence Malick’s opus, Pitt took it to a level of realism we’ve never seen before.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
This was a pretty weak field overall, but again, audiences (and actors) loved “The Help.” So Spencer’s humorous, happy-threatening (any other “Community” fans out there?) performance will probably be enough to top this category.
Could Win: Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
Bejo was certainly charming as rising film star Peppy Miller, and has two major factors going for her: 1) putting her in Supporting Actress was category fraud, since she has just as much screen time as some of the women in lead and 2) “The Artist” might sweep the whole night.
Should've Been Nominated: Elle Fanning, “Super 8”
Yes, I went there. J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi Spielberg tribute suffered from a calamitous third act, but some of that might be attributed to the sudden disappearance of Fanning, whose awkward, sweet, early-teen romance plotline was easily the best part of the film up to that point.
Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
As last year’s win for Tom Hooper, the forgettable director of “The King’s Speech,” proved, the Academy cares more about the film than the career. This would be more noble if their preference in films was better. But I look forward to this win so we can have a definitive pronunciation of this guy’s name.
Could Win: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
If we were talking about careers, there would of course be no question here. Scorsese may have finally won an Oscar for “The Departed,” but that doesn’t even really begin to make up for several decades’ worth of masterpieces. His charming tribute to early cinema would be another good place to try, though.
Should've Been Nominated: Nicolas Winding Refn, “Drive”
“Drive” was brash, bold, sexy, violent and thoroughly unlike anything else this past year. Refn had been on the radar for film buffs for his visual flair in films like “Bronson,” and with “Drive” he delivered on his potential. Leave it to the Academy to ignore truly original filmmaking.
Will Win: “The Artist”
This silent, black-and-white homage to silent film may not have hit it big with mainstream audiences, but it has charmed the pants off of industry insiders. The film’s marketers have been campaigning with the slogan, “You don’t have to say anything to feel everything.” I mean, how does anyone compete with that?
Could Win: "Hugo"
Apparently, you compete by fighting fire with fire. Pretty much the entire Oscar slate this year was built on nostalgic and sentimental works, but “Hugo” stands out for its grand scale. If the Academy weren’t generally biased against fantasy, it might have an even stronger chance.
Should've Been Nominated: "Tinker, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier"
I just as easily could’ve picked “Drive” here, but I’m going with Tomas Alfredson’s challenging, twisty spy thriller because, unlike “Drive,” it actually had a chance. Where was the British voting bloc that in years past ushered “Shakespeare in Love” and “The King’s Speech” to the podium?