At The Movies: Oscar’s locks and long shots |

At The Movies: Oscar’s locks and long shots

Comedian Billy Crystal hoists an Oscar statuette in front of a much larger model of the movie prize. Crystal will host the 84th Academy Awards, which broadcasts Sunday night on ABC.

It's been nearly 10 years since the last time we saw Billy Crystal do what he does best: host the Oscars.

With the 84th Academy Awards, the seasoned comic is back again to make us laugh while the Hollywood crowd honors the best of the best of the previous year.

As with any year, there's sure to be certain surprises and letdowns as some celebs take home the gold and others go home empty-handed. Nobody knows exactly what will happen until the envelope is opened at the podium, but while some wins are foregone conclusions, that doesn't mean we can't hope for a shocker to complete the sentence "And the Oscar goes to…"

Best Visual Effects

What will win: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2"

Having been sparse in Oscar nominations and even more so in wins over the course of the series, the "Harry Potter" saga's special effects department has always been integral to the success of the movies. Obviously, you can't have a film about the use of fantastic battles between denizens of the magic world without some computer-aided wizardry, and the final film had some of the best touches.

What should win: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

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Nobody wants to see Harry's gang win more than I, but the truly monumental effects of 2011 were found in the reboot of the classic tale of man vs. monkey. The use of motion-capture animation created an entire army of chimps, orangutans and gorillas which look a million times more evolved than the beasts of the 1960s and '70s films or even the Na'vi of "Avatar."

The reason "Apes" is so worthwhile is because the effects are used to move along a movie, unlike fellow nominees "Real Steel" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," where the effects are the whole movie.

Best Original Score

Who will win: Ludovic Bource for "The Artist"

Most films have dialogue and other such noises to fill out the sound quotient, but the mostly silent "Artist" does not. Bource's lively score with moments of melancholia covers the full spectrum of human emotion and captivates the audience.

Though some have disagreed with his use of segments of Bernard Herrmann's theme from "Vertigo," it still fits in quite seamlessly.

Who should win: John Williams for "War Horse"

Bource has somewhat of an unfair advantage in providing composition for a movie where his music is far from the background and much more of a focus. Alberto Iglesias ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") and Howard Shore ("Hugo") each have their strengths, but any film scored by Williams — take "Jaws," "Superman" or "E.T." — is memorable no matter how prevalent the music among the action onscreen.

Also nominated for "The Adventures of Tintin," Williams punches up the sentiment for "War Horse" in a manner that makes for one unforgettable sensation that touches you each time you hear it.

Best Original Song

Who will win: Brit McKenzie for "Man or Muppet"

Choosing between "Life's a Happy Song," "Pictures in My Head" and more from "The Muppets" must have been a tough process for Oscar voters. With recent rules stipulating that no movie could have more than two nominations in the category, it's surprising that they only picked one, but the ridiculously funny of "Man or Muppet" suits the Jim Henson brand perfectly.

Who should win: Brit McKenzie

With just two nominees picked out for the final list, McKenzie only has to beat out the snappy "Real in Rio" from "Rio" by Sérgio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and Siedah Garrett, and frankly it's not even a contest. Any of McKenzie's melodies would have fit the bill, and a win for him would almost correct the oversight of "The Rainbow Correction" being snubbed for the Oscar decades ago.

Best Animated Feature

What will win: "Rango"

With its superb sense of humor and uniquely designed characters, the Western cartoon about a lizard who invents a new identity as a gunslinger goes well beyond the child crowds for which it's intended. Normally, Pixar has this category all sewn up, but with the lukewarm critical reception of "Cars 2," they didn't even get nominated, allowing a much more clever entry to swoop in and take the prize.

What should win: "The Adventures of Tintin"

OK, the live-action film shot as a cartoon — like "Rango," also released through Nickelodeon Movies — wasn't even eligible for the ballot because of rules against motion-capture technology, but it still should be the one to get the honor. Unless there's some underground write-in campaign I'm unaware of, "Tintin" probably won't achieve such a distinction, but at least there are other worthy competitors, be it the feisty feline of "Puss in Boots," the big-bellied buffoon of "Kung Fu Panda 2" or the more obscure foreign features "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico & Rita."

Best Original Screenplay

Who will win: Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris"

Collecting more than 20 nominations for direction and writing over the course of his career, Allen hasn't actually won an Oscar since "Hannah and Her Sisters" and is always a no-show at the ceremony. With his latest movie proving to be one of his biggest hits ever, the filmmaker's up-and-down status is comfortably back in the up position.

Who should win: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for "Bridesmaids"

While Allen's droll style works well, "Midnight in Paris" is far from his best movie. The ability to induce gut-busting laughter is a true talent, and Wiig and Mumolo demonstrated their prowess for hilarity in the expectation-defying "Bridesmaids." Besides making us guffaw endlessly, their story is a wonderful note about female friendship that comes together flawlessly.

There's no reason why a light feature can't win, even competing against solid movies like "The Artist," "Margin Call" and the Iranian "A Separation," which is also the likely winner of Best Foreign Language Film.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who will win: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for "The Descendants"

Payne took home the honor several years ago for the adaptation of "Sideways," a novel which didn't even receive publication until the movie hit theaters. With new writing associates Faxon and Rash, the writer-director captures both the humor and pathos of a family coming to terms with the imminent death of its maternal figure and the mess she left before landing in a coma.

Kaui Hart Hemmings' book of the same name is sure to sell more copies now.

Who should win: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

Taking a sizable tome by John le Carré and turning it into a smart and compact spy movie is no easy feat, but O'Connor and Straughan keep the narrative crisp, riveting and still steadfastly complex. Any of the nominees would be justified in a victory here, whether it's the whimsical "Hugo," the political thriller "The Ides of March" or the fast-paced look at baseball strategy, "Moneyball."

Best Supporting Actress

Who will win: Octavia Spencer for "The Help"

Spencer is a joy to watch as the fearless, forceful Minny, who offers up a slice of truth with a big helping of brazen opinion in 1960s Mississippi. Anybody who can take being treated like a second-class citizen at work and at home and still put a smile on your face is worthy of the gold.

It also helps if you're willing to do something called "The Terrible Awful."

Who should win: Octavia Spencer

Few people knew her by name before "The Help," but the actress deserves every single award she's gotten up until now and the little man named Oscar is no different. Her co-star Jessica Chastain's performance was also part of a breakthrough year, while the same goes for Bérénice Bejo of "The Artist" and "Bridesmaids" scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy.

Fifth nominee Janet McTeer, nominated for "Albert Nobbs," has been to the dog and pony show before, but hopefully this nomination will help her become more of a household name.

Best Supporting Actor

Who will win: Christopher Plummer for "Beginners"

The story of man trying to change his entire personality in his golden years is made even more engaging by a wonderful performance by a seasoned actor. Plummer has played in everything from cartoons to "The Sound of Music" to the midway installment of the "Star Trek" film series.

Even so, it's safe to say he's never had a better role than that of Hal Fields, who has a sexual reawakening at age 75 and admits to being gay for the first time in his life.

Who should win: Christopher Plummer

Playing in a small, little-noticed movie is often a selling point, but Plummer really does have it coming to him, regardless of the details about how long he's been in the industry. His illustrious résumé isn't even as substantial as fellow nominee Max von Sydow, whose bit in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" as a man who communicates entirely through non-verbal methods is only the most recent in a career going back more than 60 years.

Likewise, Nick Nolte of "Warrior" and Kenneth Branagh of "My Week with Marilyn" have been around for quite a while and are no strangers to the Academy Awards, but "Moneyball" nominee Jonah Hill is still somewhat of a surprise in the hot seat.

Best Actress

Who will win: Viola Davis for "The Help"

As hired domestic Aibileen, Davis taps into the subjugation and distress felt by countless black women in the South, who, no matter how much their employers may say differently, are not considered part of the family. Much like her smaller, but still powerful role in "Doubt," the actress conveys a sadness that makes you want to just reach into the screen and try to give her a hug.

Who should win: Glenn Close for "Albert Nobbs"

Davis is by no means unworthy of the honor, but in a perfect world we'd see more ties on Oscar night beyond the single instance way back when Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn each won Best Actress in the same year. Six-time nominee Close should be sharing in the accolades for her performance as the title character of "Albert Nobbs," a woman masquerading as a man, if for no other reason than to break her streak of losses, for which she is nearing legendary Oscar loser Peter O'Toole.

Breaking her own record as the most nominated acting personality in history is Meryl Streep, with a 17th nomination for portraying Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," while Michelle Williams is back for the third time for her part as bombshell Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn." And, then there's newcomer Rooney Mara, tapped for playing the enigmatic young woman of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

A great acting job, if not a great remake.

Best Actor

Who will win: Jean Dujardin for "The Artist"

As a Hollywood silent film actor who just can't seem to adjust to the concept of movies with sound, Dujardin speaks volumes without actually being heard. The suave French actor's uncanny likeness to the brightest stars of the 1920s is coupled with a universal body language attuned to the intricacies of a moviemaking style that's been of vogue for too long.

Who should win: Demián Bichir for "A Better Life"

While hardly anyone in the United States likely knew of Dujardin before his big role, the most common response of a man-on-the-street poll about Bichir would probably be, "Who?" The actor and the movie for which he's nominated are by far the least hyped of the Oscar race, but his quiet, powerful showing as an illegal immigrant trying to eke out a living ranked as one of the most poignant performances of the year.

It's a shame he's overwhelmed by bigger names like George Clooney for the grief-stricken husband of "The Descendants," Gary Oldman's soft-spoken secret agent of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" or Brad Pitt as Oakland A's manager Billy Beane in "Moneyball."

Best Director

Who will win: Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist"

Directing a movie with limited audio accompaniment could come off as gimmicky if it weren't done correctly, and the maker of the "The Artist" does more than just copy the techniques of those who were in the business before 1927. He cuts out the maudlin element that dominates so many silent movies and stages them just like any regular modern film that just happens to be in black and white without any sound.

Or, at least, not much sound.

Who should win: Martin Scorsese for "Hugo"

He made a name for himself by making movies about life on the streets and has branched out with films depicting the lives of 19th century aristocrats, Jesus Christ and the Dalai Lama, but the kind of viewership Scorsese never went after was that of the young people. Though it took him a long time to test the waters, he clearly knows what he's doing with the tale of an orphaned boy living in a train station, and his segue into working with 3-D cameras is just as noteworthy.

Here's another instance where a draw wouldn't be a bad thing, with Scorsese and Hazanavicius each standing a hair above their competition: the wry (Alexander Payne for "The Descendants"), the weird (Terrence Malick for "The Tree of Life") and the witty (Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris").

Best Picture

What will win: "The Artist"

A delight to watch from beginning to end thanks to the newfound take on the concept of the pre-talkie movie, this salute to the old way of doing things gets everything right. Besides two stars who look every bit the part of Hollywood royalty, the presentation is fun, thoughtful and tender all at the same time without trying to please anyone other than its creators.

Oddly enough, if it wins, it will be the first silent movie to do since the first Academy Awards.

What should win: "The Artist"

Considering how their content practically goes hand in hand, it's impossible to judge the top movie between "The Artist" and "Hugo," but the former barely wins out as the better overall movie. With nine nominees in the bracket, there's a wide gamut of selections from the cloying "Extremely Loud and Incredible Close" to the intensely uninhibited "The Tree of Life." Throw in "War Horse," "The Descendants," "Moneyball," "The Help" and "Midnight in Paris" and you've got a strong representation of virtually every kind of film you could want.

The variety of this year's Oscars alone should exhibit the fact that nothing is set in stone, so think twice before you make your picks.

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