Movie News & Reviews

The Oscar's expansion

At a time when most organizations are cutting back, tightening their belts and trimming their bottom lines, the Academy Awards are getting bigger.

This year’s Oscar ceremony will feature not one, but two hosts and a huge field of Best Picture nominees.

It’s all part of a gambit by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to boost flagging viewership and fill industry coffers. The Oscars peaked in 1998, when 55.2 million households tuned in to watch “Titanic” win best picture.

Who will take home the gold this year? Read on for my predictions about the 82nd Academy Awards.

Best Picture

• “Avatar”

• “The Blind Side”

• “District 9”

• “An Education”

• “The Hurt Locker”

• “Inglourious Basterds”

• “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

• “A Serious Man”

• “Up”

• “Up in the Air”

With 10 films vying for Best Picture this year, it’s going to be a tight race.

Complicating the matter is the fact that many of the nominees wouldn’t normally grace the award slate. Comedies rarely win Oscars, and the Academy has yet to award Best Picture to a science fiction or animated film.

One movie is guaranteed to buck that trend.

James Cameron’s “Avatar” has all the elements that made “Titanic” a sure thing — star-crossed lovers and sweeping cinematography — plus the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping computer animation you’ve ever seen. What’s more, the epic shares a storyline with Oscar winner “Dances With Wolves” and Oscar nominee “The Last Samurai”

What should win: “The Hurt Locker”

What will win: “Avatar”

Best Director

• James Cameron,


• Kathryn Bigelow,

“The Hurt Locker”

• Quentin Tarantino,

“Inglourious Basterds”

• Lee Daniels,

“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

• Jason Reitman,

“Up in the Air”

Rarely have the Oscars seen such a diverse mix of directors.

James Cameron has dominated the box office since the days of “Aliens,” “The Abyss” and the “Terminator” movies. Lee Daniels ( “Shadowboxer”) and Jason Reitman ( “Juno,” “Thank You for Smoking”) are relative newcomers, and Quentin Tarantino is the pop culture-obsessed hipster behind “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill.”

But it’s Kathryn Bigelow, whose past credits include “Point Break,” “Strange Days” and “K-19: The Widowmaker,” who truly shines in this company.

Her “Hurt Locker” is a gritty, engrossing nail-biter about the human side of the Iraq War.

Who should win: Kathyrn Bigelow

Who will win: Kathryn Bigelow

Best Actor

• Jeff Bridges,



• George Clooney,


in the Air”

• Colin Firth,

“A Single


•Morgan Freeman,


• Jeremy Renner,


Hurt Locker”

From George Clooney’s corporate warrior to Morgan Freeman’s South African freedom fighter to Jeremy Renner’s adrenaline- addicted soldier, it’s been a year for fine male performances.

The true challenge will be picking a winner between Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth, two capable leading men finally given a shot at greatness.

In “Crazy Heart,” Bridges imbues his

washed-out country singer with all the genuine heartbreak of a honky-tonk ballad. For sheer skill, however, “Crazy Heart” can’t compare to Firth’s command performance as a straightlaced English professor unraveling at the seams.

Who should win: Colin Firth

Who will win: Jeff Bridges

Best Actress

• Sandra Bullock,


Blind Side”

• Helen Mirren,

“The Last


• Carey Mulligan,



• Gabourey Sidibe,

“Precious: Based on the

Novel Push by Sapphire”

•Meryl Streep,

“Julie &


Here’s a shocking statistic for you: Meryl Streep, the undisputed grand dame of American cinema, has received 16 Academy Award nominations.

First nominated for 1979’s “The Deer Hunter,” she netted Oscars for “Sophie’s Choice” and “Kramer Vs. Kramer.” Now the actress is up for yet another statuette, for her role as bubbly, butter- loving gourmand Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.”

Streep’s competition this year includes fellow Oscar winner Helen Mirren, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe and box office leader Sandra Bullock. My favorite? British ingénue Carrie Mulligan, whose turn as a schoolgirl seduced by an older man was one of the freshest performances I’ve seen all year.

Who should win: Carey Mulligan

Who will win: Sandra Bullock

Best Supporting Actor

•Matt Damon,


•Woody Harrelson,

“The Messenger”

• Christopher Plummer,

“The Last Station”

• Stanley Tucci,


Lovely Bones”

• Christoph Waltz,

“Inglourious Basterds”

Woody Harrelson probably made the biggest leap in 2009: going from a trigger-happy redneck in “Zombieland” to a career soldier in “The Messenger.”

The rest stuck more or less to type. Christopher Plummer played Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, Matt Damon went blonde as a burly rugby captain, and the normally nice Stanley Tucci starred as a creepy serial killer.

Then Austrian actor Christoph Waltz came along and stole the show. Playing a sadistic Nazi officer in “Inglourious Basterds,” his performance was at times chilling, charming and utterly delicious.

Who should win: Christoph Waltz

Who will win: Christoph Waltz

Best Supporting Actress

• Penélope Cruz,


• Vera Farmiga,

“Up in the


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