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The Artist

Jean Dujardin portrays George Valentin, left, and Berenice Bejo portrays Peppy Miller in a scene from “The Artist.” The Weinstein Company

It’s been a great year for film, evidenced by the strong list of nominees for the 84th annual Academy Awards slated to be handed out during a glitzy Hollywood ceremony Sunday night.

The Oscars program will be aired to a global audience at 5:30 p.m. Sunday from the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, hosted by Billy Crystal. Red carpet interviews and more are slated to begin at 4 p.m., airing on KGO-TV (Channel 7).

Keeping with tradition, this fan of film will once again stick his neck out by predicting who will take Oscar home. Here goes:

 

Best Picture

Silent, black-and-white film, “The Artist” heads this year’s list for best picture, alongside eight other nominees. Starring 2012 Oscar nominees Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, it tells the story of Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to talkies. “The Artist” received 10 Oscar nods, the second most nominations this year. It won the best film (picture, musical or comedy) at the Golden Globe Awards last month.  

Respected filmmaker Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” earned an Oscar nomination for 2012. The film stars George Clooney as an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off Waikiki in Honolulu. It recently won the best picture-drama Golden Globe honor.

Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn, in his first film role, star in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” The movie follows a 9-year-old amateur inventor, who searches New York City for the lock that matches a key left behind by his father, who died in the terrorist attacks on World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The Help” is a film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name. It’s an ensemble piece about a young white woman, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, and her relationship with two black maids during Civil Rights-era America in the early 1960s. Skeeter is a journalist who decides to write a controversial book from the point of view of the maids, exposing the racism they are faced with as they work for white families. The film’s stars — Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain — earned Oscar nominations.

Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” leads this year’s nominees list with 11. The film, set in 1930s Paris, tells the story of an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station and is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father. 

“Midnight in Paris” is a romantic comedy written and directed by Woody Allen. The plot centers on a small group of Americans visiting the French capital for business and pleasure. The protagonist, a screenwriter, is forced to confront the shortcomings of his relationship with his fiancée and their divergent goals due to his magical experiences in the city beginning each night at midnight. It stars Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. 

With a terrific screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, is a biopic about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.

Terrence Malick is behind the best picture Oscar-nominated film, “The Tree of Life.” The movie, starring Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, chronicles the origins and meaning of life by way of a middle-aged man’s childhood memories of his family living in 1950s Texas, interspersed with imagery of the origins of the universe and the inception of life on Earth.

Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” is an English war epic based on a children’s novel set before and during World War I. The drama follows Albert, played by Jeremy Irvine, who enlists after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry.

This category is not an easy pick this year, as most on the list easily deserve the mantle of top film of the year. Torn between the merits of “The Help,” “The Descendants” and “Hugo,” I’m going with what I think is the darling of the Hollywood set this time around, “The Artist” as Best Picture. The daring of the production will outweigh its closest competitor, “The Descendants.”

 

Best Direction

Allen, a Hollywood favorite, scored a best directing nod for his work on the warm and fuzzy “Midnight in Paris.” This marks his 23rd nomination.

Director Alexander Payne earned an Oscar nomination for Clooney’s film, “The Descendants.” This is the sixth time Payne has been nominated by the academy. 

Malick earned a best directing nomination for “The Tree of Life,” about a middle-aged man’s contemplation of the pattern and meaning of his life, interwoven with moments from his childhood in a small Texas town. 

Scorsese is nominated in the best directing Oscar category for “Hugo” — his 10th in Academy Awards history.

Michel Hazanavicius earned the best directing Oscar nod for “The Artist.” He won the best director honor at the Golden Globes for “The Artist.”

While I really loved what Allen, Payne and, especially Scorsese, accomplished, I feel certain that newcomer Michel Hazanavicius will take Oscar home as Best Director.

 

Best Actress

Meryl Streep earned a nomination for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” This marks her 17th nomination. Throughout Oscar history, Streep previously received 16 nods and has won only two awards. She has already won the best actress-drama Golden Globe award this year for “The Iron Lady.” 

Viola Davis received a  nomination for her role as Aibileen Clark in “The Help.”

Rooney Mara is up for  for her role as hacker Lisbeth Salender in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a film based on the first book in the Swedish trilogy by late author Stieg Larsson. 

Michelle Williams earned nomination for “My Week with Marilyn,” the movie in which she portrays Marilyn Monroe in the early summer of 1956.

Glenn Close is nominated for “Albert Nobbs,” the film in which she plays a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in Ireland during the 19th century.

Probably the hardest call of all categories, any one of the nominees could walk off with this year’s award. A lot of people say the smart money is on Williams for her amazing Monroe portrait. I was captivated by Mara in the year’s most suspenseful drama. However, I think academy voters will reward Meryl Streep with her third Oscar as Best Actress for the amazing job she did in bringing Thatcher to life.

 

Best Actor

Demián Bichir received an well-deserved Oscar nomination for his portrayal of hardworking single father Carlos Galindo in “A Better Life.” Bichir carries this touching, poignant, multi-generational story about a father’s love and the lengths a parent will go to give his child the opportunities he never had. 

Pitt earned a nomination for his portrayal of Beane in the well-made “Moneyball.”

Gary Oldman is up for his role as George Smiley in the perplexing British espionage film “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

Jean Dujardin earned a  nomination for the silent film “The Artist.” He plays silent movie star George Valentin, who’s concerned how the arrival of talking pictures will affect his career.

Clooney is nominated for his role in “The Descendants.” He portrays a land baron who tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident. Clooney took home this year’s best actor award at the Golden Globes.

While many say Frenchman Dujardin has a lock on Oscar, I feel Tinseltown will reward George Clooney with the award for Best Actor, having passed earlier on his nominations for “Up in the Air” and “Michael Clayton.”

 

Best Supporting Actress

Chastain received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of young writer Celia Foote in “The Help.” 

French actress Berenice Bejo earned a nomination for “The Artist.” She portrays talkie movie star Peppy Miller in the silent film.

Melissa McCarthy snagged an Oscar nomination for the adult comedy, “Bridesmaids.”

Janet McTeer is up for her portrayal of Hubert Page in “Albert Nobbs,” the curious tale of women passing themselves off as men in late Victorian–era Dublin, Ireland.

Octavia Spencer earned a nomination for her exceptional role in “The Help.” The actress already took home this year’s best supporting actress Golden Globe award, and I’m predicting Spencer will take Oscar home as well as best supporting actress.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh received a nod for his role as Sir Laurence Olivier in “My Week with Marilyn,” co-starring Williams.

Hill is up for a nomination for “Moneyball.” He portrays the assistant general manager of the Oakland A’s.

Nick Nolte is in the running  for the sports-action drama, “Warrior.” He plays estranged father Paddy Conlon, a recovering alcoholic who becomes religious.

Christopher Plummer earned a nomination for his portrayal of a widower coming out as gay to his adult son in “Beginners.” He won the best supporting actor Golden Globe for the same role this year. 

Swedish actor Max von Sydow is up for his role in the 9/11 film, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”

Without saying a word, von Sydow tells the story of a lifetime in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” helping a young boy face his inner fears.

Although Plummer did a fine job in a rather so-so film, I’m predicting Max von Sydow will be rewarded with an Academy Award as best supporting actor. His face alone told a thousand tales.

 

Best Original Song

Over the years, I’ve included two more award categories to the predictions with the most interest. But it’s hard to fathom that this year only a pair of original songs were good enough for a nomination. They are “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets,”  written by Bret McKenzie, and “Real in Rio,” from “Rio,” composed by Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett. Tossing the coin, I’ll say “Real in Rio” will be rewarded with an Oscar as best original song.

 

Best Foreign Language Film

The nominees in this category are “A Separation” (Iran), “Bullhead” (Belgium), “Footnote” (Israel), “In Darkness” (Poland) and “Monsieur Lazhar” (Canada). Morally complex, suspenseful and consistently involving, “A Separation” captures the messiness of a dissolving relationship in Iran with keen insight and searing intensity. 

It won the Golden Globe Award last month. “A Separation” should also take Oscar home as best foreign language film.

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