Next Monday the polls on the 2010 Academy Awards will finally close, marking the end to what's felt like an endless campaign season, and giving the nominees and the Oscar obsessives alike just five more days to prepare for the big night. The air seems to have gone out of this season even earlier than normal this year, thanks to the King's Speech snagging both a ton of nominations and nearly every guild award in the following week; even last year when Kathryn Bigelow and the Hurt Locker were cruising toward an easy victory, we still had the whole "battle of the exes" to keep us entertained, plus the generally unpredictable presence of James Cameron. This year, with the amiable Tom Hooper and Colin Firth representing The King's Speech, and many of the industry's wild cards-- David O. Russell, Christian Bale, David Fincher-- on their best behavior, it seems foolish to wish for any kind of surprise.

But wait! (You felt that coming, right?) There are still enough surprises in store to make this year's Oscars well worth watching, and even the good kind of surprises that won't make you give up on faith in the movie industry entirely. With just two weeks left of pre-Oscar columns left to go, and next week's inevitably dedicated to my predictions about who will win, it's time to run down the eight potential surprises on Oscar night-- a.k.a., how your Oscar ballot will get totally screwed and you'll never win your office pool. Don't worry, I never win either, and I do this shit for a living.

Read below for my thoughts on the eight possible surprises, and chime in in the comments about which you agree with and any others you're predicting. It's a rough point in the season, OK, and we all need to believe in some wild cards to get through the next two weeks.

James Franco is hosting. Anything can happen. Yes, he and co-host Anne Hathaway are likely to hit the usual beats-- topical humor, musical number, something about Jack Nicholson in his sunglasses-- but Franco is by far the most unpredictable A-list star we have (at least, unpredictable for reasons that aren't drug problems). I'd count on him doing at least one thing you won't see coming and will be forced to discuss endlessly the next day. In fact, I'm sure that's what the Oscar producers were counting on when they hired him.

Best Director. Tom Hooper took home the Director's Guild prize at a point when everyone assumed it was David Fincher's to lose, but then Fincher won at the British BAFTAs, an awards ceremony where The King's Speech won pretty much everything else. Even if The Social Network is doomed in its quest for Best Picture, Fincher can easily take Best Director-- it all depends on if the Academy loves The King's Speech, or really really loves it. It's a fine line that nobody quite understands at this point.

Best Actress. This is a momentum shift that may just be invented in the heads of bloggers who are bored at this point in the race, but if you want to read into Annette Bening's front-and-center placement in the Oscar class portrait and her recent win from the London Film Critics, it's possible to see a from-behind victory in the works. After all the movies are almost equally loved by the Academy, with Black Swan just one nomination above The Kids Are All Right's five. And Bening has been up for the Best Actress prize twice in recent years, both times narrowly losing out to Hilary Swank. I still think it's Portman's to lose, but I'm telling you, crazier things have happened. Don't take a bathroom break for this one.

Best Supporting Actress. It's hard to even predict a "surprise" in this category, since there's not really even a frontrunner. Melissa Leo has been dominating this volatile category most of the awards season, but her recent tacky self-bought "for your consideration" ads could very easily be turning the tide against her, and with True Grit's adorable Hailee Steinfeld hot on her heels. Plus there's the fact that Leo and Adams are in the same film and could easily split the vote, leaving room for Steinfeld or, hell, even Jacki Weaver to jump in there. This will be one of the first prizes announced in the night, but definitely one of the best places to see genuine shock on the winner's face.

Best Original Screenplay. Conventional wisdom has it that The King's Speech's David Seidler has this locked up-- and that'll be my prediction next week. But with Christopher Nolan having taken home the Writer's Guild prize-- for which The King's Speech was not eligible-- and The Kids Are All Right's script still highly regarded, there's a sense that there are enough competing factors to allow room for an upset. Seidler probably still has it, but if you're hoping to see Inception rewarded with anything beyond technical prizes, don't give up on this category just yet.

Best Cinematography. Roger Deakins was supposed to be the clear frontrunner here for True Grit, both because the film is gorgeous and because the man is a master who's been nominated nine times and has never won. But then Wally Pfister won the prize from the cinematographer's guild, and suddenly there's an actual race at hand. I love both True Grit and Inception and see this as a win-win-- Pfister is a four-time nominee, all for Christopher Nolan films-- but if Deakins does lose it, expect some outrage mixed in with genuine happiness for Pfister.

Best Original Score. You could predict Alexandre Desplat, because he's a respected veteran and provided the lovely music for the steamroller The King's Speech. You could predict Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, because their work is so groundbreaking, so iconic and integral to The Social Network, and has won a bunch of other prizes. You could predict Hans Zimmer because of the Inception button, or John Powell's How To Train Your Dragon score because it's undeniably great. The only person I can't see winning this is A.R. Rahman for 127 Hours, but still, this is as wide open a category as any.

Best Documentary Feature. With everyone's presumed frontrunner Waiting for Superman not even nominated, the category isn't really anything like anyone expected to see. And though Inside Job still has a clear advantage in topicality and critical acclaim, it isn't nearly as good at attracting attention as Exit Through The Gift Shop, the film I know I would vote for just to see who would accept it (Banksy, the secretive artist director, has said he won't be there). But then in situations like this, with two top contenders duking it out, it's easy for a third possibility-- like the reportedly moving Gasland-- to slip through.

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