The 83rd annual Academy Awards, will be broadcast on ABC next Sunday with hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Who are they you ask? Well, one is PhD student who is nominated for best actor playing a mountain biker who cuts off his own arm and the other was the heterosexual in Brokeback Mountain (in just one of her over 20 film roles). Obviously Oscar is aiming toward a younger, edgier, demographic than last year’s hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin – who, BTW, were terrific.

This annual self-congratulatory gala, loaded with extemporaneous and meandering speeches peppered with names unfamiliar to the hundreds of millions watching around the globe – which thankfully are often cut short with strains of “walk off music” – is billed as Hollywood’s Biggest Night!

 

It indeed may be, as most of the nominated stars show up looking their bowtoxed and tanned best (along with those stars eager to plug something). Hollywood royalty assembles with the hope of being recognized by the Academy – albeit a slightly different than the one Plato founded in Athens in the 4th Century B.C. (that Academy might have awarded best picture to Avatar instead of The Hurt Locker last year).

It’s all a very incestuous and somewhat silly affair with more formality than you might find in Stockholm for theirstuffy awards. America (and the rest of the world) eat it all up with parties and drinking games coordinated with this, the super bowl of the entertainment business. The ultimate parlor game for the event is predicting the winners. So popular is this pastime that it has become a formalized contest for many companies accessible through their corporate internet.

Despite Hollywood having a flat year, 6 of the 10 best picture nominees had box office over $100 million – but only two broke the $200 million dollar mark (Toy Story 3 and Inception). $100 million translates to about 15-20 million viewers (before moving to video). So there is a chance viewers may have actually seen some of the films – not always the case for many nominees.  Traditionally the more “big box office” films get nominated, the more tune in for the show. Last year’s show, despite the awards and speeches, was a nicely produced and viewed gala. Avatar had everyone abuzz. Enough about the show, on to the predictions.

Oscar watchers typically break out their predictions into who “should win” and who “will win” – recognizing the fickleness of the Academy. I won’t do that – all my predictions are who will win. My comentary on who should win is pretty obvious.

Those playing at home and needing a list of nominees can find it here. So here we go…

Best Picture – Social Network – Best picture by a mile. Relevant, interesting, and highly entertaining. Briskly directed with crackling dialog supported with brilliant performances. The favorite here, The King’s Speech was cute, but really, essentially a Hallmark TV Special. Social Network producer Scott Rudin (who also produced True Grit) is well liked in Hollywood having established himself a track record of longevity and quality. This category, with 10 nominees is always the hardest to call.

Actor in a Leading Role – C-c-c-olin Firth for The King’s Speech – Tough competition here, but Jeff Bridges won last year. Despite brilliant performances, Eisenberg and Franco simply aren’t young enough (see below) to win. Javier Bardem won two years ago for supporting actor. That leaves Firth who is a likable “actor’s actor” who can do both drama and comedy with aplomb, and who more than anything effectively conveyed a sense of bewildered royalty in his role. Plus, he has a smashing British accent to give his speech with! Easy win!

Actress in a Leading Role – Natalie Portman for the Black Swan – Hollywood loves people who “pull a Robert DeNiro” and transform themselves for a role. Portman trained as a dancer and lost even more weight (if that was possible) and was completely credible as a professional ballerina in this very dark drama. Plus, she’s been acting since she was 13 and her telling of the “secret clubs” at Harvard to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin provided a tent post for his Social Network drama. That’s got to be worth something. Golden Globe winner Annette Bening’s performance was good, but that win was for the comedy or musical category – no such distinction made with Oscars. Portman’s performance is just more meaty than everyone else. Easy win.

Actor in a Supporting Role – Christian Bale for The Fighter – Easiest prediction. Batman gives a simply brilliant performance as he a makes a white trash crack-addicted-loser into a charming character. Go figure. Best performance by anyone in 2010. This is the kind of performance that makes other actors shake their heads in wonderment and disgust. “Damn!” This Welsh actor tells people how to “pawk the caw” with authority.

Actress in a Supporting Role – Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit – The Acadamy loves to hand out awards to kids any chance they can. This is the year’s toughest category as all these performances were terrific.  Melissa Leo and Amy Adams were particularly wonderful playing, shall we say, less than glamorous roles in The Fighter. They should split the vote creating a clear path for Hailee to the podium instantly increasing the enrollment at community theaters across the nation!

Directing – David Fincher for The Social Network – The fact that the real best director of the year, Inception’s Christopher Nolan (whose mind blowing writer/director tour-de-force was also a box office hit – how many of those can you count?) wasn’t nominated, makes this category very tough to call. Let’s hope whoever wins acknowledges Nolan – that would be a real sign of class and respect. While I love David O. Russel and the tone he brings to The Fighter – at times it’s dramatic and other times hilarious – I think Fincher pulled together something amazing telling his story of a landmark phenomenon.

As for the other awards, I predict a win for Toy Story 3, a film remarkable in so many ways. This is a special film – one everyone should see. More than any other film this year (with the possible exception of Inception) Toy Story 3 was a film that has a bit of magic in it. Remember that? Hard to find in many of these dark dramas Hollywood loves to turn out. Toy Story 3 film sucks you in, takes you to another world, entertains you, and leaves you walking out the theater with a wonderful feeling. Brilliant on every level. The Toy Story series may be one of the finest ever.

That said How to Train a Dragon was the best use of 3 D this year and was nearly as wonderful – just not quite as much. All-in-all great year for animation.

The writing category is always very competitive,and this year is no exception.  Veteran West Wing creator/writer Sorkin should win for best adapted screenplay for Social Network – it is his absolute best work to date. For original screenplay I like Nolan for Inception – this is something completely original. Nothing has been that original since The Matrix – which didn’t even get a writing nomination. The Academy typically prefers to award something more traditional. If that is the case then I like The Fighter as they made that most tired of story-lines, the Rocky/boxing story, new and unique.

Finally it will be fun to see Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor win for best score for The Social Network.

As for the show, I am sure the hosts will do a great job. The teaser ads have been cute, and the team that produces this show has gotten better and better each year always keeping things moving. The only real tension will be to see if best documentary director Bansky shows up – his Exit Through the Gift Shop is brilliant and something to seek out if you haven’t seen it. Bansky is the JD Salinger of the graffiti/public art world and should he show up, will be very interesting.

So print our your ballots, order up a pizza, get your laptop and iphone, log on to facebook and start twittering – oh and enjoy the show!