— Did you know that the Academy Awards’ sealed envelope didn’t come along until 1941? That means surprises, at least in the early years of Oscar, weren’t always the point of the big night. One year early on The Los Angeles Times actually printed the names of the winners before the ceremony. Oops.
But now that the awards have become the Super Bowl of Popcorn, a night to wager against your friends in betting pools at watching parties, surprise has become a major factor. Several hundred million of you are not going to sit next to Robert Pattinson at the Kodak Theater, but you want to feel like you have a reason to watch someone else do that.
This year's ceremony seems, from most reported accounts, to be especially predictable. Mo’Nique, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock and Christoph Waltz have long been favored in their respective acting categories.
So if nothing upsets the frontrunners in the acting categories, will you care? Will watching the show still feel necessary? Who might upset the already telegraphed outcome? And most importantly, will you lose money on this thing?
Here’s how it’s all shaping up:
Nominees: Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner
Most likely to succeed: Jeff Bridges
He’s “The Dude.” What’s to misunderstand here? He’s the frontrunner because he’s been consistently great for decades and no one bothered to do anything about it until now (yes, he was previously nominated a few times, but to little consequence). It’s a collective moment of “Oh yeah, you. We all really like you.” “Crazy Heart” is a movie you probably haven’t seen yet, but really, you’ve seen it before. Not important. If it’s been decided that it’s his turn, then we’re OK with that decision.
If he wins: Diehard Clooney-ites will be annoyed and grouse about the fix being in. They may have a point there, but they’ll be the only ones too worked up about it. Of all the sure things, this one feels strongest and therefore the least compelling. And whichever way the wind decides to blow, fans of warmth, grace and class will win when the speech-giving comes.
Oscar pool wild card: George Clooney.
In spite of how the Academy often loves to reward men for playing mournful gay roles, Firth isn’t flying as high on the radar as he should be. And Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker” was hidden behind too much battle gear. Meanwhile, Clooney is in a movie that feels like the right kind of bittersweet modern commentary on American culture. And he’s George Clooney.
Shouldn’t bother preparing an acceptance speech: Morgan Freeman — Sadly few people saw the very moving “Invictus,” thanks to its unusual name and the fact that, on paper, it felt like homework. You think the Academy members watch all those free DVDs they get? They don’t.
Nominees: Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, Carey Mulligan, Gabourey Sidibe, Meryl Streep
Most likely to succeed: Sandra Bullock
Like Julia Roberts before her, the media was just waiting for a time when Bullock would select a project that felt Oscar-worthy. “The Blind Side,” for all its mainstream charms, isn’t really that film, but no one seems to care. It gave Bullock a chance to do more than just clean up at the box office and send entire families to movie theaters together; it allowed her to move even cranky critics with her performance as a tough-love-and-Taco-Bell-delivering adoptive mom. Her frontrunner status was one everyone seems to have been hoping they could eventually just hand to her. So now she’s got it more or less in the bag.
If she wins: We’re in, with no reservations, no annoyance that it was all foretold from the moment the movie hit theaters. She’s going to give a homey, funny acceptance speech. If she doesn’t, then we’ll be a little annoyed. We’d also like her to mention the Razzie Award win for "All About Steve" that she will probably already have received the day before the Oscars. We’d also like Betty White to be somewhere in this scenario.
Oscar pool wild card: Gabourey Sidibe
Weirder things have happened. “Precious” may have peaked too early and, again, the subject matter may have kept some people from seeing the film, but Sidibe’s performance is both heartbreaking and uplifting, even more so than Bullock’s. And first-timer’s luck could work in her favor. Meryl Streep will be waiting until she’s 75 for that next win.
Shouldn’t bother preparing an acceptance speech: Helen Mirren
She’s already recently won and, again, more people have seen “Nine” than “The Last Station.”
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Plummer, Stanley Tucci
Most likely to succeed: Christoph Waltz
Let’s say the level of insane baseball bat to the head violence caused you to walk out of “Inglourious Basterds.” That means you still watched and squirmed through the knuckle-whitening opening sequence featuring long, long, looooong takes of Waltz as one of the smoothest, most terrifying, tension-creating Nazi officers in film history. He’s earned his frontrunner position thanks to that rare contemporary combination of critical adulation and audience support at the box office. Weirdly enough, everyone loves a good fictional Nazi, and sometimes the guy who’ll probably win is the guy everyone wants to win.
If he wins: No one will be shocked, and yet even more so than with Mo’Nique, Waltz has the affection of regular moviegoers on his side. It’s a strange affection, reserved for actors who play charming evildoers, but it’s affection all the same. His probable win will be a moment for cheers instead of yawns and bathroom breaks despite his lack of name recognition.
Oscar pool wild card: Christopher Plummer
The Academy likes to reward bodies of work as much as they like to reward breakout performances. It doesn’t matter that only about 23 non-Academy members or film critics have even seen Plummer as Leo Tolstoy in “The Last Station.” It could happen. And if it does, everyone at home will think about “Edelweiss” and be happy for him anyway.
Shouldn’t bother preparing an acceptance speech: Stanley Tucci. Which version of him does anyone want to see more than once? The creepy dollhouse-obsessed child murderer or the dapper guy who can’t keep his hands off Julia Child? Everyone knows he was nominated for the wrong movie.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Mo’Nique, Penelope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick
Most likely to succeed: Mo’Nique
When you play against type to devastating, career-changing effect (and when, before all this, your type was only allowed to star in horrible comedies like “Phat Girlz”), as Mo’Nique did as the monstrously abusive mom in "Precious,” the Academy likes to feel as though they’re anointing your career turn. She’s also the most accessible, real-life funny and well known of the nominees outside of Penelope Cruz. Her frontrunner position is the result of a gathering steam of other awards and nonstop talk about her impressive transformation. In fact, if buzz equaled paid admissions, “Precious” would be a bigger box office hit. Even so, her sure thing status doesn’t feel forced.
If she wins: Surprise factor will be zero, but the guarantee of a tears-and-jokes-filled acceptance speech means we’re still rooting for her, even if we can’t bring ourselves to sit through the domestic horror of her movie.
Oscar pool wild card: Anna Kendrick
It was a comedic performance, which seems to be OK with voters in the supporting category. Also, she’s young. And furthermore: “Twilight” kid!
Shouldn’t bother preparing an acceptance speech: Maggie Gyllenhaal
“Crazy Heart” is Jeff Bridges’ show.