Tom O’Neil on those wacky Oscar nominations

Shame, shame on our Oscarologists for getting some things very wrong – like the number of Best Picture nominees. Most pundits predicted that there would be only five, six or — at most – seven. Alas, there turned out to be nine and there was one film on the list that 29 of our 31 Oscarologists didn’t see coming: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Only Chuck Walton (Fandango) and Sean O’Connell (Hollywood News) nailed it.

Missing from the list were two films on our pundits’ Top 10 lineup: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Bridesmaids.” Some Oscarologists were betting on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” too, but it got left out in the cold.

Nonetheless, “Tinker Tailor” actor Gary Oldman managed to get into the Best Actor race. Ditto SAG nominee Demian Bichir, who surely benefited from the fact that “A Better Life” was the first DVD screener shipped to academy members this derby season. Oldman and Bichir bumped Leonardo DiCaprio (“J. Edgar”), who had been nommed at SAG and the Golden Globes. Also missing: Globe nominee Michael Fassbender (“Shame”), thus proving academy members to be ridiculous prudes again. Female nudity is fine (think Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball”), but the old geezers in AMPAS freaked out at the sight of a naked, well hung stud. (Or just jealous, do you think?)

Also missing from the four acting categories: Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin“), who got bumped by Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“), but we knew that might happen. Otherwise, “Dragon” didn’t do as well as expected. David Fincher was the only DGA nominee who didn’t cross over to the academy’s list, getting replaced by Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life”).

We pundits knew that “Hugo” might lead with the most nominations, but 11 was more than expected and now we must wonder: Can it bag the top prize? For the past 20 years the movie with the most bids has won Best Picture 15 times.


The answer is probably “no” considering “The Artist” also did better than expected, garnering 10 nominations. Plus, it has all of the buzz. As of today, 26 of our 31 Oscarologists predict it will prevail and for good reason. Like past champ “Slumdog Millionaire,” it leaves viewers with a smile on their faces and a dance in their step as they exit the theater and it has a message that resonates long afterward. Just as Hollywood survived the transition from silent pix to talkies more than 80 years ago, it must now soldier through challenges from the Internet and 3D.

Other likely winners: “The Artist” helmer Michel Hazanavicius – because the director award usually lines up with Best Picture, of course. Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) is a shoo-in to win Best Supporting Actor. He’s a straight man who plays gay and dies a hideous death on screen (the magic formula – think Sean Penn getting shot in “Milk” and Tom Hanks dying of AIDS in “Philadelphia”). He’s also in the category that’s often a Veteran’s Achievement Award, as proven by past champs Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and Jack Palance (“City Slickers”). However, beware as another veteran surprisingly snuck into this category: Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close“).

The Best Actress contest has only three true contenders: Viola Davis (“The Help“), Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady“) and Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn“). Davis is favored to win by 20 of our 31 Oscarologists. While “Iron Lady” is surely Streep’s greatest performance in recent years, she hasn’t won in 29 years. Sure, she holds the record for most nominations (17), but she’s no Katharine Hepburn (who holds the record for most wins – four, all in lead.) Streep has only won one and a half times: “Sophie’s Choice” (lead) and “Kramer vs. Kramer” (supporting).

The race for Best Actor could turn out to be very interesting. While George Clooney (“The Descendants“) is heavily favored, he could get crushed by “The Artist” juggernaut, which could turn Jean Dujardin into this year’s Roberto Begnini – another charming foreigner with a sly wink.

Most Oscarologists think Octavia Spencer (“The Help“) is waaaaaay ahead to win Best Supporting Actress, and she probably is, but, Berenice Bejo might catch a ride on any “Artist” juggernaut. When upsets happen, they usually occur in the supporting races (think Jim Broadbent, Marcia Gay Harden, Tilda Swinton). Thus, beware of Melissa McCarthy, who could be this year’s Marisa Tomei (“My Cousin Vinny”), that bawdy, brash comedienne with sly defiance. She could end up disrupting the Oscars the same way those wacky bridesmaids wreaked havoc at that wedding on screen. After all, she disrupted the recent Emmys – none of us pundits foresaw her victory there.

Below is how the nominees matched up with the collective predictions of our pundits.
 * = Surprise

“The Artist”
The Descendants
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” *
The Help
“Midnight in Paris”
“The Tree of Life”
“War Horse”

MISSING: Our pundits predicted “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Bridesmaids” in their Top 10.

Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”)
Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”)
Martin Scorsese (“Hugo”)
Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”) *

MISSING: Pundits predicted Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)

Demián Bichir (“A Better Life”) *
George Clooney “The Descendants”)
Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”)
Gary Oldman (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) *
Brad Pitt (“Moneyball”)

MISSING: Pundits predicted Leo DiCaprio (“J. Edgar”) and Michael Fassbender (“Shame”)

Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs”)
Viola Davis (“The Help”)
Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) *
Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”)
Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”)

MISSING: Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”)

Kenneth Branagh (“My Week with Marilyn”)
Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”)
Nick Nolte (“Warrior”)
Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”)
Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”) *

MISSING: Albert Brooks (“Drive”)

Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”)
Jessica Chastain (“The Help”)
Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”)
Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”)
Octavia Spencer (“The Help”)



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