10 things to look for in the Oscar nominations

When the Oscar list is unveiled tomorrow, it will include nearly 100 nominations in 24 categories – an overwhelming amount of info to grasp. What’s most important? Here’s an easy rundown of the top 10 things you should look for:

1.) What movie has the most nominations? Over the past few decades, the contender with the most bids has won Best Picture about 75% of the time. Yes, “The Social Network” has won nearly all of the early Best Picture awards bestowed this derby season, but it probably won’t lead with the most Oscar nominations. It’s not going to have a lot of bids in those tech categories like art direction, costume design, makeup and visual effects. In fact, it might be only the third, fourth or even fifth most nominated film. Watch for “The King’s Speech,” “Inception” and “Black Swan” to reap the most.  Will that give one of those films the boost it needs to take down “The Social Network” for Best Picture?

2. The film editing category at the Oscars is crucial to winning the top prize.  Every Best Picture winner since “Ordinary People” in 1980 has had a film editing nomination. When all of us were making predictions in 2005, we should have taken this fact more seriously and realized that “Crash” was an upset-in-waiting since front-runner “Brokeback Mountain” wasn’t nommed for film editing. With so many technically rich films in contention this year, one or both of the two Best Picture favorites — “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech” – could be shut out of that editing race next.

3. Now that there are 10 Best Picture nominees, which ones can you automatically eliminate when making your predictions?  There will only be five directing nominees, and it is extremely rare for a film to win Best Picture without at least having its director in the mix.  The last time that it happened was 1989 with “Driving Miss Daisy.”  This ongoing trend will most likely hurt “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The Town,” “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone.4. If 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit” is nominated as a lead actress, will it really be the shocker that the mass media will want you to believe?  Her studio and producers have been campaigning her as a supporting actress, but Oscar voters have been known to make up their own minds. With an overwhelming amount of screen time, voters might decide to switch her to lead like they did in 2008 with Kate Winslet in “The Reader” or 2003 with Keisha Castle-Hughes in “Whale Rider” (another teen performance).

5. Will Oscar voters be sentimental this year?  Michael Douglas has barely received any pre-Oscar attention (only a Golden Globe nomination), but his recent cancer scare might cause Academy members to place him in a supporting slot for “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”  It would also be a nod back to his only acting win for the same role in 1987. Also, Pete Postlethwaite gave a memorable performance in “The Town” and is a previous Oscar nominee who passed away a few weeks ago.

6. Golden Globe acting winners should continue a long-standing tradition of also receiving Oscar nominations.  Over the past 30 years, Globe supporting acting winners have received Oscar nominations every single year, so Christian Bale and Melissa Leo should be safe. In that same 30-year period, the drama lead winners have also gone on to Oscar nominations 29 times, so Colin Firth and Natalie Portman can breathe easy as well.

7. Each year, there is almost always a returning acting nominee from the previous year.  For 2010, it should be an unusual wave that earns Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth and Jeremy Renner repeat nominations (all were nominated against each other last year in the lead actor category).

8. The old Annette BeningHilary Swank showdown may be back again.  Each time Bening has had her best chances at winning an Oscar (“American Beauty” and “Being Julia”), Swank has swept in and taken the gold (“Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby”).  When Swank received a Screen Actors Guild nomination a few weeks ago, awards followers everywhere smiled at the possibility of it happening again (even though Swank has a moderate chance at a nomination, much less a win).  Bening is actually much more concerned by a defeat to Natalie Portman this time.

9. Not only is David Fincher the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar for directing “The Social Network,” he is very likely to be the only previous nominee competing in this category.  If it is the same field as the Directors Guild, Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”), Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) and David O. Russell (“The Fighter) would be first-time directing nominees.  Ethan and Joel Coen are possible contenders who have multiple nominations and one win for directing.

10. Although he is more famous as an actor, Ben Affleck has never received an Oscar nomination for acting.  He has a longshot chance for his lead performance in “The Town” this year, but once again his best shot is for the screenplay and an outside possibility as that film’s director.  Affleck and Matt Damon won an Oscar for writing the original screenplay to “Good Will Hunting” in 1997.  

Photo: AMPAS

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