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BY GEORGE The Descendants could get nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.

Not all Oscar-seeking films this year engage in such nostalgic navel gazing. However, when topical issues are addressed, they are usually decades out of date. Like with Tate Taylor's THE HELP, also among the top five Best Picture nominees. This tale of racism in the Jim Crow South might have seemed timely back in 1963 when Sidney Poitier won an Oscar for Lilies of the Field. And why, 70 years after Hattie McDaniels won an Oscar for Gone With the Wind, do we still have African-American actresses nominated for portraying maids?

Nonetheless they are great performances, as VIOLA DAVIS will be up for Best Actress and OCTAVIA SPENCER is in the hunt for Best Supporting Actress. Rounding out The Help contingent is JESSICA CHASTAIN as the spunky white girl who apparently was the real impetus behind the Civil Rights movement.

But could Chastain's nomination suggest that the Academy might favor female characters with gumption? Like Best Actress hopefuls MERYL STREEP in The Iron Lady and GLENN CLOSE as the 19th-century Irish cross-dressing butler in Albert Nobbs. Too bad Thatcher is a feminist in the sense that Lady Macbeth was one, and her key to success is being even more of an asshole than the boys in fighting for patriarchal capitalist principles. And Close's Nobbs wears pants but also aspires to the same bourgeois values that put women like her down in the first place.

Nor are the other two Best Actress nominees likely to break new ground for women in movies. TILDA SWINTON suffers splendidly as the Oedipal mother of a psychopathic child in We Need to Talk About Kevin and MICHELLE WILLIAMS reprises the Monroe myth in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN. As Marilyn's nemesis Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh will get a nomination for Best Supporting Actor and the picture itself might take one of the optional Best Picture nominee slots. As will THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, though Rooney Mara as the title terminatrix might be too threatening to get a nomination.

Maybe the Academy is saving its spunkier actress choices for the Supporting category. For example, MELISSA MCCARTHY of Bridesmaids might be the only Oscar nominee to play a character who shits in a sink, while SHAILENE WOODLEY plays a more decorous but still daunting character in THE DESCENDANTS. That film also has a chance at Best Picture and should definitely get nods for GEORGE CLOONEY as Best Actor and ALEXANDER PAYNE as Best Director.

Clooney's irresolute pater familias aside, most of the male nominees take on macho authority figures. Probable Best Actor nominee LEONARDO DICAPRIO plays the tough FBI head of the title in J. Edgar, though in one scene he does mellow out and dress like a woman. Brad Pitt will also get nominated as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane in MONEYBALL, itself a potential Best Picture candidate, and his sidekick Jonah Hill will have a spot on the Best Supporting Actor roster.

Portraying another tough guy is Best Supporting Actor contender ALBERT BROOKS as a former B-movie mogul turned mobster in Drive. He'll go mano-a-mano with NICK NOLTE as a boozy ex-boxer who teaches his kid to kick ass in Warrior, and with CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER as a dad with a much different agenda in Beginners.

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