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Not a single one of us here in the Player Affinity Movies deparment would claim to be movie expert, but if you combine us seven of us together, that has to add up to the equivalent of a Roger Ebert, right?
For the last year, our staff has been mining the hundreds of movies released for possible 2012 Oscar contenders. Julian gave us his Oscar picks a year in advance, John covered all the buzzing films during the festival circuit and the rest of us ... we watched a lot of movies.
But the moment is finally here; it's time to make our final predictions. We've listed our individual picks with some thoughts to back them up. We guarantee nothing, but you better believe we know our stuff.
John: Early on, it seemed like a year with no real consensus title. But this silent movie marvel exploded out of the gate, winning almost every major critics' award, as well as the Golden Globe, PGA, and DGA. Betting against it would be Oscar pool suicide.
Julian: Harvey Weinstein did it again. This silent black-and-white flick captured the industry and critics by the heartstrings. The biggest category of the night will—as in many years past—be the least suspenseful.
Best DirectorWoody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Simon: Little-known director Michel Hazanvicius has shown his skill in simultaneously crafting a homage to silent film, a throw-back to an era and simply a noteworthy film in all regards. If The Artist takes best picture, expect the director to line up accordingly.
John: It's between the French newcomer and living legend Martin Scorsese, but history says to stick with the Directors Guild Award winner in this category, and I'm doing just that. Bravo, Michel!
Max: Even if his film doesn't win, no other director could have blended 3D technology (at its best) with a story dedicated to the earliest days of cinema, quite like Scorsese did. It was masterful on all fronts of filmmaking and Scorsese is the source.
Best Actor in a Leading RoleDemian Bichir (A Better Life)
Max: All of Clooney's roles have a distinct air of "George Clooney," and while that presence exists in The Descendants, Clooney is able to bring true characterization and depth to an otherwise ordinary character/role. Unlike his main rival Dujardin, Clooney's performance is as layered as it is impeccably nuanced.
Best Actress in a Leading RoleGlenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
Max: Davis has been a player for years, even if you only came to know her in 2008's Doubt. Streep has power and consistency, but Davis' has the story and role that Academy members love to reward.
Julian: Thanks to wins from the BFCA and SAG and the film’s massive box-office success, the best performance of the year is yet again the frontrunner for Best Actress, though Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher impersonation poses a serious threat.
Kieran: Meryl Streep has been an Academy darling for years and it is a two horse race for Best Actress this year. Streep’s performance has been universally praised and help elavate The Iron Lady.
Best Actor in a Supporting RoleKenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
John: Plummer won this award over 18 months ago, when this film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Despite the film's low profile, no one has even come close to matching the beloved octogenarian in buzz or precursor awards.
Sam: Although Plummer’s status as a Hollywood standard that has yet to win an Academy Award is catnip for Oscar voters, his win will be nonetheless deserved. Plummer’s
turn as a father only given the chance to live openly in the twilight of his years exposes how tragedy can forever alter what you thought you knew about the people you’ve spent your whole life with.
Julian: Okay, we think Christopher Plummer has it in the bag (and he probably does), but "Extremely Loud’s" shocker nomination in the top race means something, doesn’t it?
Best Actress in a Supporting RoleBérénice Bejo (The Artist)
Steven: Other than playing a much more likeable character, Spencer is a cookie-cutter version of Mo'Nique, who dominated this category two years ago. She's cleaned up all the big awards and she's a feel-good story.
Simon: Like her co-star Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer has screen-owning scenes throughout The Help, is at the forefront of the race issues explored and simply has one of the better written characters. Only if Jessica Chastain splits The Help vote more than expected could we see an upset.
Best Original ScreenplayMichel Hazanavicius (The Artist) - Julian
John: This one could definitely go to The Artist in a big, night-long sweep, but something tells me the film doesn't have enough ... words. So I'm going with Midnight in Paris, the only other Best Picture nominee in the field.
Best Adapted ScreenplayAlexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash (The Descendants) - Julian, John, Max, Sam, Simon, Steven
Steven: It's an impressive list of scripts, but The Descendants is far and away the most powerful film of them, especially when looked at in terms of its character development from Clooney all the way down, dark humor and poignancy. The Writers Guild Award just seals the deal.
Simon: Boasting a few great, key performances and a beautiful shooting style to anchor things, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants is a writer’s film through and through. Even though this is an adapted script, Payne’s fingerprints are all over this film and pretty much could give the Academy a chance to honor two “original” works in one year.
Kieran: Though The Descendants is the most likely movie to win this award, the adaptation for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy adaptation possible of that complex novel. It could cause an upset.
Best Visual EffectsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 - Sam
Best Original ScoreJohn Williams (The Adventures of Tintin)
Kieran: The Artist is the favorite to win Best Score, but there is a lot of love for Hugo and the Academy may try to find a way to award it. Howard Shore did produce a incredible, fitting score for that movie.
Best Animated FeatureA Cat in Paris
Sam: Pixar’s absence would cause for a sigh of relief for Dreamworks and Nickelodeon were there entries this year a bit stronger. Instead, expect the recently released Chico and Rita to woo voters with its artisanal 2D animation and love story set to the sweet, sweet sound of Cuban jazz.
Best Documentary FeatureHell and Back Again
Sam: All the nominees are uncharacteristically focused in nature, but Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory has the benefit of relevancy. The release of the West Memphis 3 last August gives a level of resolution uncommon to most documentaries, and should stay in voter minds as a satisfying, if not necessarily happy, conclusion to the West Memphis 3 saga.
Steven: I haven't seen any of these, so you can discount my pick entirely, but I do know one thing: The Weinstein Company distributed Undefeated. Easily the most aggressive Oscar-campaigning studio ever, you can be sure TWC got this underdog sports flick into the hands of every Academy voter it possibly could. The film is also the only feel-good doc on the board.
Best Foreign Language FeatureBelgium (Bullhead)
Kieran: A Separation is the favorite to win Best Foreign Language Feature for one main reason, it is the movie that the Academy is most likely to have seen and liked.
John: It's one of the year's best reviewed films, and it won almost every major award for foreign-language features. But this category often surprises, so don't count out In Darkness or Monsieur Lazhar.