There are certain categories that make the academy awards interesting, normally because even the best predictions cannot foresee who is going to win. Last year "Slumdog millionaire" swept the awards season and it was easy to predict who was going to win here and there, although there were some surprises like "Departures" winning best foreign film and Sean Penn beating Mickey Rourke for best actor.
This year the surprises come in some pretty big categories, and there will be surprises and snubs in all of the following categories, no matter who wins. First of all, these are dead-lock winners in their category.
It is almost a tied race between "The hurt locker" and "Avatar". I stated last week that "Inglourious Basterds" had a chance at gold, but "Avatar" has been receiving a lot of free and paid press lately, so I take it back. Some academy voters have also stated that they voted for "Avatar" and the film has a huge fan following. If "Avatar" wins, then a lot of critics will be upset for "A hurt locker", and if "The hurt locker" wins then a lot of "Avatar" fans will be dissapointed, because some people consider it one of the best films of last years (just compare the IMDB ratings: "Avatar" has an 8.5, and "The hurt locker" has an 8.0).
It is impossible to say that a movie is better than the other. "A hurt locker" has a better story and not so cliche dialogue, but "Avatar" is simply breathtaking and the story is classic but reconstructed to use it in a 21st century manner to ultimately portray a very green message, which resonated with a lot more people than "A hurt locker". In reality, "Avatar" will be remembered forever because it is so technical impressive, some people claim it to be the next "Star wars", so in that sense, "Avatar" is already a better movie. Who will win? I should go with the safe bet and choose the PGA, DGA winner "The hurt locker", yet I am biting my tongue in this one, something innate tells me that "The hurt locker" is not going to win. It makes sense that I say "The hurt locker" is going to win, but I think that if the Academy voted "The blind side" on the top 10 movies of 2009, then it can vote "Avatar" best film to make audiences happy, and to side behind a film that is really good and maybe even underated.
Meryl Streep had been nominated 16 times and Sandra Bullock has been nominated once. Streep has won 2 times, and people say she should win every year. Yet, Bullock did something this year that the Academy simply loves: a comeback. Last year the academy gave the Oscar to Sean Penn over Rourke (who also had a massive comeback) because Penn was incredible as Harvey Milk, but in this case, Streep's performance is not as strong as she can be. I think that they should give her the Oscar on a role that simply showcases all her acting talent, and states once and for all that she is the best living actress. Bullock's performance was not that strong, but she was well received among fans, specially in the midwest where the Academy has always failed earning the big ratings. Bullock will win, and now it is more a matter of time than a race, but there is always the chance that the Academy chooses Hollywood royalty.
Winner: Sandra Bullock
Best Original Screenplay
"The hurt locker" won the Writer's guild award, and has been the front-runner, but Quentin Tarantino was not nominated for the writer's guild because he is not a member. "Inglourious Basterds" will not win any big awards apart from best supporting actor, so the Academy will like to give him the same award that they gave him for "Pulp fiction". Either way, I am a Tarantino fan, and will be rooting for "Inglourious" as it deserves it.
Winner: "Inglourious Basterds"
Best foreign language film
Past awards don't matter, hence "Departures" winning last year, so I won't even mention them. The race is between two films. "A prophet" is the french "The godfather" without the glamour and set in a prison. It works as a religious allegory, as a social commentary, and as an interesting look at human nature behind bars. The acting is also superb and you feel entertained throughout every minute of the 2+ hours. "The white ribbon" is an interesting look at a small German town whose kids will grow up to live in a fascist society. The actions of the children are an allegory for the social diversion that happened in WW2 Germany. Both are fantasitc movies, and the Academy loves WW2 films, but "A prophet" is a stronger film, and it has a Hollywood narrative, so the members that vote on this category will like it better.
The third film in the race, "The secret in her eyes" shows the untalked effects of the Peron government and is still powerful as a narrative (it even has a happy ending), but it falls flat in some parts and the building up to the climax could have been done better. "Milk of sorrow" is an art-house look at the effects of terrorism in Peru, and its strong as it touches topics like the social class differences in Lima and the different mentalities of the country, but it is really slow and people will probably not remember it as the film can't compete against the already classic "A prophet" or "The white ribbon".
Winner: "A prophet"
Again, the race is between "Avatar" and "The hurt locker". Both films have been the front-runners in this category for a long time, and neither won for the ASC awards, "The white ribbon did". Now, the academy will definitely favor one of this two films, they are the ones that people want to see win and so do the critics. Although the cinematography of "A hurt locker" is better, "Avatar" will probably win because the film is set in another world and created completely out of CGI. No big deal.
Best costume design
The race is between "Coco before Chanel" and "The young victoria". Both great costume designers, yet "The young Victoria" is the kind of film the Academy seems to favor because it is British (actually the film is Canadian funded, but set in Britain).
Winner: "The young Victoria"