War and peace in battle for Oscar

 

If James Cameron beats Kathryn Bigelow to Best Director, just go to bed 20 minutes early – ‘ Avatar’will have everything else in the bag, writes DONALD CLARKE

A GREAT MANY fingernails will be bitten ragged tomorrow night. Yes, for the first time in eight years – since Chicago saw off Gangs of New York and The Pianist – we know we have a tight race for the best picture Oscar. Sure, Crash just snuck past Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountainin 2005, but few Oscar punters even realised there was a competition on that year. Lee’s picture had, to that point, won every race it entered. This year we know that James Cameron’s Avatarand Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Lockerare running neck and neck. The conflicts this throws up have been much discussed over the past month, but they are so delicious they deserve repeating.

Unless you live among blue humanoids on a distant planet, you will be aware that Cameron and Bigelow were once married. Given that only three women have previously been nominated for best director (and same-sex marriages are still rare) it hardly needs to be said that this is the first time a divorced couple have squared up for the golden megaphone.

This whole gender business is, of course, barely a distraction for the Academy’s bean counters. What interests them more is the gulf between the two films’ takings at the box office. In recent years, with less populist films such as Slumdog Millionaire and No Country for Old Mentaking the top prize, popcorn-scoffing mainstream viewers have fled the telecast in droves. A month ago, when Avatarseemed like a dead cert for best picture, Academy accountants began rubbing their hands together in glee. If the biggest film of all time could win best picture, punters would, surely, be reassured that the ceremony was not just intended for middle-brow critics and industry insiders.

Since then, however, Bigelow’s tense Iraq war drama has won a bundle of significant best picture awards: the Directors’ Guild, the Producers’ Guild, Bafta. Many bookies now have it as the favourite.

Last week, a dispute blew up when it emerged that Nicolas Chartier, one of the producers of The Hurt Locker, had sent out an e-mail urging voters not to support an unspecified big-budget epic. (Which film could he mean?) This was viewed as unsporting, but Bigelow’s picture remains in the ascendant. This was not the Academy’s plan. Having scraped a paltry $17 million worldwide – against Avatar’s$2.5 billion – The Hurt Lockerwould, by most measures, be the least successful film ever to win best picture. Slumdog Millionairewas a blockbuster by comparison. At any rate, Bigelow is strong favourite to take the best director prize. Should that happen, the race for best picture remains open. If, however, Cameron beats her to it, you can go to bed 20 minutes early. Avatarhas it in the bag.

Sadly, the acting races seem to be done and dusted. Sandra Bullock, due a reward after several recent box-office smashes, could get passed over for best actress, but the other favourites seem close to unbeatable.

Irish interest will focus on the nominations for Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beautyand The Door in, respectively, the best animated short and best live-action short categories. The most likely – indeed, near certain – domestic winner will, however, be Richard Baneham for best visual effects on Avatar. And The Secret of Kells? Well, long before that fine Irish film received its stunning nomination as best animated feature, Oscarologists were saying that Up could not be beaten. If Kells wins, its achievement could, quite reasonably, be regarded as the greatest Oscar upset of all time. Will the bookies offer you 1000/1? Will they heck.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS

WHAT WILL WIN – AND WHAT SHOULD WIN

BEST PICTURE NOMINEES

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; Will win: Avatar. Should win: A Serious Man.

BEST DIRECTOR NOMINEES

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

James Cameron for Avatar

Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

Will win: Kathryn Bigelow. Should win: Kathryn Bigelow.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart

George Clooney for Up in the Air

Colin Firth for A Single Man

Morgan Freeman for Invictus

Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker

Will win: Jeff Bridges. Should win: Colin Firth.

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side

Helen Mirren for The Last Station

Carey Mulligan for An Education

Gabourey Sidibe for Precious

Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia

Will win: Sandra Bullock. Should win: Gabourey Sidibe

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Matt Damon for Invictus

Woody Harrelson for The Messenger

Christopher Plummer for The Last Station

Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds

Will win: Christoph Waltz. Should win: Christoph Waltz.

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Penélope Cruz for Nine

Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart

Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air

Mo’Nique for Precious

Will win: Mo’Nique. Should win: Mo’Nique.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

District 9; An Education; In the Loop;

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; Up in the Air

Will win: Up in the Air. Should win: In the Loop.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; The Messenger; A Serious Man; Up

Will win: The Hurt Locker. Should win: A Serious Man.