With the Oscar ballots mailed and the ceremony less than a month away, it's time to turn our attention to potential winners. So for the next few weeks, this column will devote itself to doing just that, predicting a batch of categories at a time. I'll admit it would be a substantially more enjoyable exercise for both myself and potential readers if there was a little more suspense involved. Save for a few categories (best original screenplay, best foreign language film and, to some degree, best picture) many of this year's Oscar races seem nearly set in stone. But it's not over until it's over, and as boring as Oscar can generally be, he has thrown us a shocking bone or two over the years. So beginning with the acting races, here begins indieWIRE's prognosticatory path to the Academy Awards.
The last time the supporting acting races seemed this locked was, well, last year, when betting against Heath Ledger and Penelope Cruz seemed essentially ridiculous. There were whispers that "Doubt"'s Viola Davis could somehow take out "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"'s Cruz, but for the most part that was probably argument for argument's sake. Once we discovered "The Reader"'s Kate Winslet had managed to find herself in the lead acting race for that performance instead of supporting, Cruz was good as gold.
This year, it doesn't even seem like anyone is even trying to argue for argument's sake about potential opponents for "Inglourious Basterds"'s Christoph Waltz or "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"'s Mo'Nique. Sure, you could suggest Waltz isn't Hollywood enough and that Woody Harrelson or Christopher Plummer have enough friends in the Academy to pull off a surprise. Or that Mo'Nique's lack of campaigning has stirred up resentment among voters and that Maggie Gyllenhaal or one of the "Up In The Air" ladies are poised to take her down. But both suggestions are almost pointless. Waltz and Mo'Nique have won massive amounts of precursor awards - nearly every one their category had to offer (save for one or two critics awards for Harrelson and Anna Kendrick). Both star in best picture nominees that have received scores of other nominations, but their wins would potentially be their respective films' one and only. Both have given many a great speech (particularly Mo'Nique) at the Globes, SAGs, etc. Either of them losing would be an upset of Juliette Binoche-over-Lauren Bacall proportions.
The lead acting categories offer a bit more possibility for surprise. Best actor much less so that its female counterpart, as Jeff Bridges seems extremely likely to win his first Oscar for "Crazy Heart." But Bridges has not swept the precursors. All four of his fellow nominees - George Clooney, Jeremy Renner, Colin Firth and Morgan Freeman - have taken home a fair share of awards, from the National Board of Review (Clooney and Freeman, tying), to the National Society of Film Critics (Renner), to the New York Film Critics (Clooney). But Bridges has the SAG, the Globe, and the Critics Choice, and really those are the three awards that matter in Oscar's regard. The last person to win without any of those honors was "The Pianist"'s Adrien Brody in 2002, when he beat out Critics Choice and Globe winner Jack Nicholson and Critics Choice and SAG winner Daniel Day-Lewis (Nicholson and Day-Lewis had tied for the Critics Choice, if you didn't figure that out).
If anyone is this year's Adrien Brody, it's Jeremy Renner. He is said to have considerable support among actors, is starring in the potential best picture winner, and has successfully been making the talk show rounds (including this very well-received musical appearance on "The View"). But whereas Brody beat out two previous winners in Nicholson and Day-Lewis, Renner is contending against someone who has never won despite multiple nominations. Which is why this award is going to Jeff Bridges.
Finally, there is best actress. And what a strange journey to the frontrunnership it has been for Sandra Bullock. Six months ago, we were already well aware of three of the category's contenders: Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe. For sometime, it seemed like Streep had it in the bag, or that it was Meryl vs. Carey or Meryl vs. Gabby. But then came late November, when a little film called "The Blind Side" came out of nowhere to become a box office phenomenon ($240 million and counting), and people starting asking: Do you think Sandra Bullock could get a nomination? Soon that became clear, but it wasn't until her win at the SAG Awards last month where that conversation became: "Uh oh, Sandra Bullock's gonna win!" While that's still far from a certainty, it's definitely a probability. People love her, the film's made bucketloads of money, and unlike Meryl Streep's "Julie & Julia," it's been nominated for best picture. The case for Meryl Streep is that, well, people also love her, and her performance is almost inarguably superior (and won a few critics awards). And while Bullock's never won, Streep hasn't won in 26 years, which is more or less the same thing.
Then, of course, there's a reasonable argument that Streep and Bullock could split the vote, leading to a third contender to give us the night's big shocker. If there is one, that third contender is Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe has been present on the campaign trail since the beginning, charming everyone and anyone with her wit, modesty and the evidence that she is a far, far cry from the character she portrays in "Precious." The fantasy of how heartwarming it would be if Sidibe won might be enough for more than a few voters to check off her name. Not to mention, it's an excellent performance in the most nominated film represented in this category.
For what is worth, I've broken down all four categories into probability percentages, including the Streep vs. Bullock vs. maybe even Sidibe race. Check back next week for the next batch of predictions, which should offer a bit more heat than these:
1. Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side 45%
2. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia 35%
3. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious 15%
4. Carey Mulligan, An Education 4.5%
5. Helen Mirren, The Last Station 0.5%
1. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart 75%
2. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker 16%
3. George Clooney, Up In The Air 5%
4. Colin Firth, A Single Man 3%
5. Morgan Freeman, Invictus 1%
Bes Supporting Actress
1. Mo'Nique, Precious 92%
2. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart 4%
3. Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air 2%
4. Vera Farmiga, Up In The Air 1.99%
5. Penelope Cruz, Nine 0.01%
Best Supporting Actor
1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds 92%
2. Woody Harrelson, The Messenger 4.5%
3. Christopher Plummer, The Last Station 2%
4. Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones 1%
5. Matt Damon, Invictus 0.5%
"For Your Consideration" is a weekly column written by indieWIRE Associate Editor Peter Knegt. Check out the previous editions of the column:
For Your Consideration: Sundance and Next Year's Oscars
For Your Consideration: The 10 Biggest Surprises of the Oscar Nominations
For Your Consideration: Final Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Guessing The Golden Globes
For Your Consideration: Is Kathryn Bigelow a Female Director?
For Your Consideration: Re-Assessing The Major Categories
For Your Consideration: How Much Does Oscar Love a Musical?
For Your Consideration: 10 Surprises From The Spirit Award Nominations
For Your Consideration: A Guide To The Oscar Precursors
For Your Consideration: 25 Things The Academy Got Right In The 2000s
For Your Consideration: The 50 Most Despicable Oscar Snubs of the 2000s
For Your Consideration: Assessing The Major Oscar Categories
For Your Consideration: Oscar's Gay Tendencies
For Your Consideration: 11 Underdog Performances
For Your Consideration: History Repeats as Major Foreign Films Left Off Academy List
For Your Consideration: 10 Things The Fall Fests Told Us About Awards Season