The first time Crystal hosted, in 1990, "Driving Miss Daisy" won the best picture Oscar and "The Little Mermaid" won best song. It was a while ago, folks.
This year Crystal can do no wrong, because the eight-time Oscar host stepped in to save the day when producer Brett Ratner and host Eddie Murphy decamped after a minor kerfuffle involving Ratner's boorish behavior. So bring on the parody clips, Billy, and relax.
The show itself is shaping up as a lovefest for "The Artist," that sweet-natured valentine of a movie. It would be an unusual best picture choice, because it's a. silent, b. black-and-white and c. French.
But the movie's been spreading such good vibes everywhere it goes, so it seems automatic that it will triumph. And why not? The Oscars began in the final year of the silent-movie era, so an award to a silent picture every 84 years seems fair.
The 84th Academy Awards ceremony Sunday begins with the red carpet rollout at 4 p.m. on KOMO-TV, Channel 4, followed by the awards show at 5:30 p.m.
"The Artist" mojo is so strong that it will likely knock over Brad Pitt's legitimate shot (perfect casting, nice performance) at a midcareer best actor award for "Moneyball." That nod will probably go to Jean Dujardin, whose irrepressible star turn in "The Artist" is not to be denied.
Where's the suspense, then? Well, best actress is intriguing. Will the Academy really go with Meryl Streep again (this is her record-setting 17th nomination)? She's been winning a lot of the critics' group awards, but this stuff shouldn't be automatic, people.
The supporting acting categories are both wide open, with the usual battles between newcomers and old pros. It will also be interesting to see what gets said when "A Separation" wins the foreign-language Oscar, as I think it will; when an Iranian artist speaks on the world stage, he must choose his words carefully.
There are nine nominees for best picture this year, and just two nods in the best song category. I can't agree with the best picture inflation, but the paring-down of the songs (and the attendant performances during the show) can only be seen as a blessing.
They don't award the special Oscars at the actual ceremony anymore, which is a real slap at Hollywood's own legacy. But this year honorary statuettes went to James Earl Jones and makeup pioneer Dick Smith; Oprah Winfrey won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award, a curious choice considering her peripheral involvement in the movie business.
But let's get down to wagering, and leave the rest to Billy Crystal. Here are my guesses about what will probably win on Sunday night, not my picks for what should win. The envelope, please:
Best Picture: "The Artist." Everybody seems to like this extremely likable movie. "Hugo" banked the most overall nominations (11), so it's probably the closest runner-up, although "The Descendants" collected some awards too. The other candidates are: "Midnight in Paris," "The Help," "The Tree of Life," "Moneyball," "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."
Best Actress: Viola Davis, "The Help." In truth, she out-acted Streep (nominated for "The Iron Lady") this time out, and she's been knocking people's socks off for the past few years. Also up: Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs"), Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn").
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist." He gave an incredibly animated performance, and he barely spoke a word. (And if you got a kick out of this guy, see him in the hilarious "OSS 117" spy spoofs he made in France.) Brad Pitt is probably the closest competition, and Gary Oldman's superb performance in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is unfortunately not the kind of showy turn that usually wins awards. Also in the race: George Clooney ("The Descendants") and Demian Bechir ("A Better Life").
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, "The Help." Her very skillful work probably outpoints Berenice Bejo in "The Artist," unless that movie really has serious coattails. Better luck next time to: Jessica Chastain ("The Help"), Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") and Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs").
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners." Nothing special about Plummer's deft performance, but this is a gold-watch opportunity for a veteran. I thought the career award would go to Nick Nolte, for "Warrior," when that movie opened; but it withered at the box office and seems to have slipped from memory. The surprise -- and it would be another career honor -- would be the great Max von Sydow for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which would mean (if Dujardin wins) that both actor and supporting actor would be won by performers who did not speak. Also up: Kenneth Branagh ("My Week with Marilyn") and Jonah Hill ("Moneyball")
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist." There are times the director prize goes to someone other than the best picture director, but unless the voters want to toss another one to Martin Scorsese ("Hugo"), the award speaks French this year. Also nominated: Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"), Terrence Malick ("The Tree of Life") and Alexander Payne ("The Descendants").
Best Animated Feature: "Chico & Rita." The movie's just unusual enough -- a grown-up musical set in 1950s Cuba -- to take the prize in a weak year. The Hollywood front-runner seems to be "Rango," and I haven't seen "A Cat in Paris." Also-rans: "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Puss in Boots."
Best Foreign Language Film: "A Separation," Iran. A stunning movie and an acknowledged front-runner. This category can be unpredictable, because the voters actually have to watch the nominated films (that's right, in most other categories they don't); so the buzz around "Bullhead" (Belgium), for instance, could pull a surprise. Others: "Footnote" (Israel), "In Darkness" (Poland) and "Monsieur Lazhar" (Canada).
Best Original Screenplay: "Midnight in Paris," Woody Allen. The reason Michel Hazanavicius' script for "The Artist" might slip from this category is its lack of spoken dialogue (even though writing a silent movie is very nearly as difficult as writing a sound picture). Plus, this would be a good consolation prize for "Midnight," which was a big hit among modestly budgeted films. I think "A Separation," written by Asghar Fahardi, has a shot, because it's been overwhelming praised by everybody who sees it. Also listed: "Bridesmaids" (Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo) and "Margin Call" (J.C. Chandor).
Best Adapted Screenplay: "The Descendants," by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash. Close race here: "Moneyball" was a widely admired adaptation of a nonfiction subject (by Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin), and "Hugo" (John Logan) did get a lot of nominations. Also noted: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan) and "The Ides of March" (George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon).
Best Documentary Feature: "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory." Tough category. Social-issue subject matter usually wins out over artistry, which is why the favorite, "Pina," probably won't win. But there's also been heat lately around "Undefeated" and "Hell and Back Again." It won't go to "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front."
Best Cinematography: "The Tree of Life," Emmanuel Lubezki. Here's the spot for an award for the movie that had some critics singing once-in-a-lifetime hosannas (I wasn't one of them), and it was beautifully photographed. The others are "The Artist" (Guillaume Schiffman), "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Jeff Cronenworth), "Hugo" (Robert Richardson) and "War Horse" (Janusz Kaminski).
Best Song: "Man or Muppet," from "The Muppets," by Bret McKenzie. Only two songs to choose from, and this one was clever, although I also liked "Real in Rio," by Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett from "Rio." But never bet against the Muppets.
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