The 84th Academy Awards are at 7 p.m. on Sunday, and it’ll probably be one of the most interesting in recent memory. For the first time since the very first Oscar ceremony, a (mostly) silent film is expected to win the top prize.
For each category, except for Best Picture, the nominees are determined by voter branches. For example, the acting branch of the Academy votes for the acting categories, the music branch votes for the Best Original Song and Best Original Score categories and the directing branch votes for the Best Director category.
The winners, however, are voted by the Academy as a whole. So a good place to look for the Best Picture winner would be movies with the most nominations because they have the most widespread support. This year, “Hugo” leads the field with 11 nominations, “The Artist” follows closely behind with 10 and “War Horse” and “Moneyball” are behind with six apiece.
Now the movies with the most nominations don’t always win big — last year “True Grit” had the second-to-most nominations with 10, but came home empty-handed. But in a year like this one where the two leading nominees are in front by such a large margin, it is safe to assume that either “Hugo” or “The Artist” will win Best Picture.
Though “Hugo” may have 11 nominations, one significant factor it lacks is a nomination in an acting category. The acting branch is known to be the largest in the Academy, so it’s unlikely that “Hugo” will win Best Picture without their enthusiasm. Only two Best Picture winners in the last decade to win the prize without acting nominations — “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” — so the odds aren’t in favor of “Hugo.”
The likely winner for Best Picture is “The Artist,” which has one fewer nomination than “Hugo,” but has two acting nominations. More importantly, “The Artist” did much better in precursor awards, winning the top prizes at the DGA (Director’s Guild Awards), the PGA (Producer’s Guild Awards) and the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), all of which correlate strongly with winning Best Picture at the Oscars.
As for Best Director, that award matches up with Best Picture about 80 percent of the time. Since Michael Hazanavicius also won Best Director at the BAFTA and DGA, which also correlate strongly with the Best Director Oscar, it’s very likely that he’ll win the Oscar for directing “The Artist.”
The Best Actor category is a close race between George Clooney in “The Descendants” and Jean Dujardin in “The Artist,” but the latter will probably be victorious in the category. Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman and Demián Bichir have all received acclaim for their performances, but Clooney and Dujardin lead by a large margin with the precursor awards. Many cite that Clooney, who has already won for Supporting Actor in 2006 for “Syriana,” has given the best performance of his career in his latest movie.
Meryl Streep has been widely cited as one of the best actresses to grace the silver screen. With 17 Oscar nominations, the Academy obviously loves her. However, she also has a huge loss ratio with only two wins and, despite a widely-lauded performance in “The Iron Lady,” Viola Davis will probably win her second Oscar for her performance as a maid in “The Help,” after having won the SAG for the performance. Like the Best Actor category, the other three nominees simply haven’t had enough precursor support to win here.
The supporting categories are easy to predict in comparison. 82-year-old Christopher Plummer, who has shockingly only received one nomination prior to this year, will likely win Best Supporting Actor in “Beginners.” He’s gotten rapturous acclaim for his nuanced performance as a man who comes out of the closet after his wife’s death and forges a bond with his son while dying of cancer. Plummer has won nearly unanimous precursor support, but there’s a chance that he may be upstaged by the other legendary 82-year-old actor in the race without a win: Max von Sydow, a wild card nominee who will show up with no precursor nominations.
As for Best Supporting Actress, there’s a very strong field with the likes of Melissa McCarthy from “Bridesmaids” and Bérénice Bejo of “The Artist.” The likely winner, however, will be Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis’ co-star in “The Help,” and like Plummer, Spencer has received nearly unanimous precursor support.
The writing categories are always difficult to call, as precursor support tends not to hold much water here, but it looks like Alexander Payne will win his second screenplay with “The Descendants” (he won previously for “Sideways” in 2005) in the Adapted Screenplay category. Though he’s against some strong screenplays, “The Descendants” — an adult drama about familial bonding — is the type of film genre the Academy likes to go for.
Woody Allen, with 15 nominations, is the most nominated screenwriter in Oscar history. This year, if he takes home the award for his film “Midnight in Paris,” he could win his third writing Oscar, giving him the most wins in the category as well. Unfortunately, his film is up against Best Picture front-runner “The Artist,” and with its lack of dialogue, could be viewed as a more creative effort and emerge victorious in the Original Screenplay category. It’s difficult to gauge this category by precursors because “The Artist” was not eligible for the Writers Guild Awards, the most telling precursor award in this category. This category is something of a toss-up between the two films.