THE HURT LOCKER Who would have thought an Iraq War film could kick James Cameron’s butt?
Except for some pipe-dream scenarios in which the 10-nominee/weighted-voting system could turn out a victory for Inglourious Basterds or some other dark horse, everyone concedes that this year's winner for Best Picture and just about every other significant award is — The Hurt Locker!
Our Film Editor predicts the Oscar winners
BEST PICTURE The Hurt Locker
BEST DIRECTOR Kathryn Bigelow
BEST ACTOR Jeff Bridges
BEST ACTRESS Sandra Bullock
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Christoph Waltz
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Mo’Nique
Join the Phoenix's interactive Oscar battle!
How did this happen?
In a steady ascent, the gritty little Iraq War film has taken nearly every critics-group prize, the top Golden Globes, and prizes from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, the American Cinema Editors, and the Writers Guild. It's also won a host of BAFTA awards, including Best Picture and Director.
Its main rival, Avatar, on the other hand, has merely amassed more than $2.5 billion at the box office.
The moolah is part of the problem for Avatar. So much money is unseemly for a work of "art" (as in Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences). Not even a Picasso brings that much.
But it's not just the money. Titanic made a pile too, but its cast included actual human beings (two of whom even got Oscar nominations). Actors make up the largest group in the Academy. And of those who aren't actors, most believe that movies are an actor's medium. And just about everyone hates James Cameron.
Finally, there's the politics. Or lack of them. Who knew that a fantasy set in the 22nd century on the moon of a distant planet would arouse more controversy than one set in an unpopular war that's still going on? Bigelow eschewed ideology in her film; her ex-husband tacked it on in his.
So The Hurt Locker will win Best Picture and Best Director and probably half a dozen other Oscars. No Best Actor for Jeremy Renner, though. Even before Crazy Heart was in the theaters, everyone knew that Jeff Bridges was going to win as the alky C&W singer. Why? Can you think of a showy portrayal of a boozer that hasn't won an Oscar? Ray Milland in Lost Weekend (1945), Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen (1951), Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou (1965), John Wayne in True Grit (1969), Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies (1983), and Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas (1995). That's a lot of drunks — the Academy can't get enough of them. Besides, it will make up for Bridges's being snubbed for his role as the Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998).
The remaining three awards would seem equally predictable, so don't go looking for longshots here. (Okay, one: for Best Foreign Language Film, the user-friendly Israeli entry Ajami will bump off Michael Haneke's heavily favored but dour The White Ribbon. But you didn't hear that from me.)
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds has been the Best Supporting Actor favorite for so long, nobody can even remember who else was nominated. And for a good reason: can you think of a showy portrayal of a sadistic Nazi that hasn't won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar? (Actually, the only nominee I can recall is Ralph Fiennes for Schindler's List, and he lost. Hard to believe there haven't been more.)
Finally, the actress categories. For all that some will tell you The Blind Side is a wonderful testament to racial tolerance, it's really an indulgence in patronizing racial clichés. Hypocrisy, however, rules in Hollywood, and so Sandra Bullock will win as Best Actress. Not Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia, and certainly not Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. Instead, from that movie, Mo'Nique will take the Best Supporting Actress award as the demonic welfare mother. Because that's an African-American stereotype we can live with.
Editor's Note: In a previous version of this article The Big Lebowski was misidentified as The Great Lebowski. The correction has been made above.