Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin competed against each other to tame Meryl Streep in “It’s Complicated.” This Sunday, they join forces as hosts for an even riskier challenge. It’s the most complicated gig in showbiz — trying to enliven that long, often-boring television event known as the Academy Awards. In probably the juiciest contest, the 82nd annual ceremony pits James Cameron of “Avatar” against his own wife, Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker,” for best director. Who will get custody of Oscar in that category? Probably Bigelow. Here are some other predictions and preferences:
Will win: “Avatar”
It’s the first time in more than 60 years that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has endorsed 10, instead of five, best picture nominees. The idea was to make sure commercial films, not just artsy specialties, made the cut to attract interest in the TV program. Domestically, internationally, any way you slice it, Cameron’s blue-critter flick is the biggest moneymaker of all time and has revolutionized special effects technologies. Hollywood’s establishment will appreciate that.
Should win: “Precious”
Though “Avatar” has size, “Inglourious Basterds” has thrills, “Hurt Locker” has tension, “Up in the Air” has Clooney, and “Up” — a shoo-in to win in the best animated film race — has joy, the lower-key “Precious” is the most unforgettable and meaningful film of 2010. An illiterate girl finds strength against the worst odds imaginable in this awe-inspiring actors’ showcase. If “The Blind Side” beats it, that would be a travesty on par with Björk’s 2001 swan dress.
Will win: Jeff Bridges
Bridges is one of the most-respected but least-recognized talents in the business. He will get an Oscar because he’s never won before after four nominations and 40 years of consistent work. Also, Academy voters love the showier acting requirements of a drunk, over-the-hill country-musician character like his.
Should win: Jeff Bridges
And he plays that brilliantly. He communicates Bad Blake’s alcohol-fueled moments without ever straying into swooning, slurring parody. More importantly, he captures Bad’s bluesy world-weariness in every gesture while singing and playing guitar like a seasoned pro.
Will win: Sandra Bullock
In what will likely be the biggest injustice in recent Oscar memory, this one-note cutie pie will get the nod. Why? Because they like her. They really, really like her. And she beat out the other category favorite, Streep, in their last head-to-head showdown at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Should win: Gabourey Sidibe
Bullock is an appealing movie star, incapable of thespian nuance. Meanwhile, Sidibe — in real life she’s nothing like the shy young incest victim she’s now mistaken for — turns her title character into a completely original kind of heroine. Devastating in its restrained power, the prodigy actress takes a shutdown shell of a person from the ghetto and gives her a universal humanity.
Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Christoph Waltz
He has won almost all the precursor critics’ and guild awards. And, the Academy loves a supernasty bad guy, like the smarmy Nazi puppet master he portrays in Quentin Tarantino’s darkly satiric revenge fantasy.
Should win: Christoph Waltz
This unknown Austrian is superdelicious to watch. Never has a cold-blooded sadist been so oddly charming and frightening at the same time. Waltz’s Hans Landa fully steals his movie, which is what a great supporting performance is supposed to do.
Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Mo’Nique
Again, the “villain corollary” of Oscar-predicting logic applies. In the supporting races, when one of the nominees plays a really captivating evildoer, he or she can often beat out the others. And, like her male counterpart Christoph Waltz, Mo’Nique has swept the early indicator contests.
Should win: Mo’Nique
The other women in this race are helpful to their respective films, but none of them even comes close to exerting the full-out, ferociously brave expressiveness of the stand-up comedian. She turns her old résumé upside down to inhabit the most horrifically abusive mother since Greek tragedy. And yet, she somehow makes us understand her hateful Mary Jones.