Back in 1999, when Oscarwatch.com first began, the highest of priorities was to correctly predict the Oscar race.  There was only one other site, for the most part, that predicted the Oscars – Tom O’Neil’s GoldDerby.com.    Tom’s site collected mostly film critics who lined up to give their Oscar predictions every year.  The LA Times did theirs, with the help of Kenneth Turan, and no doubt the lot of you did your own Oscar predicting.  My aim as an Oscarwatcher was to understand the process.  If you ever read early interviews with me, when Variety and other outlets asked me why I started my site, I would always say that I wanted to find out why, for instance, Citizen Kane didn’t beat How Green Was My Valley,when the former is now considered, by many, to be the best film of the year — in fact, one of the finest films of all time.

I don’t know if you asked Oscar voters which film they thought was the best film ever made if they’d answer Citizen Kane.  I know that film critics write film history.  Oscar voters don’t.   And now I know full well why Citizen Kane wasn’t ever going to win the Oscar.  It took me a few years, a few heartbreaks, a few happy surprises to see how things go.  And by now, I can feel the tide as it shifts and I can see what’s coming.  I think people assumed last year that when The Social Network lost the Producers Guild that it was a big surprise.  The big surprise last year was how many awards it did win leading up to the race: no one thought it could ever win Best Picture.  David Poland proclaimed The Social Network.  Dave Karger, our predicting head guru, provisioned The King’s Speech instead.  This race was going to be a return to the conventional “Oscar movie” and an ice cold, brilliant piece of work by David Fincher would not.  But then it started winning shit? Not only did it win everything but it won where it wasn’t supposed to, sweeping the NBR and the Globes.  At some point it went from no way, to maybe? To oh my god, could it? Might it? Yes, it might! Yes, it can! Yes, it will! It can’t lose!  So then you have people who folded their arms in front of them and now say “I knew it would never win.”  “I never fell for it.” “It was always going to be the King’s Speech.” “Oscar voters aren’t critics.”  On and on it went, the weathermen taking credit for the storm they saw coming, and those explaining away how they could have missed those clouds on the horizon, the temperature shift in the air, the signs.

Somehow, in this silly little game we play, the credit for being right matters.  If you call yourself an Oscar predictor you’re supposed to be able to separate your own emotions from the act of predicting.  What threw me off about last year’s race was that the Oscar voters had been more ballsy in the years leading up to last year.  It really did feel like things had changed, or rather, changed back to how they voted in the 1970s.  But ask anyone  why The Departed won (they owed it to Scorsese), or why the Coens won (they owed it to the Coens) or why The Hurt Locker won (they wanted to award a woman) and you’ll get the same overriding opinion about these voters: if given the choice, conventional films win the day.  Bleak, beautifully written, insanely well-directed movies like The Departed, No Country and The Hurt Locker and yes, The Social Network are the flukes.  The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, A Beautiful Mind, Million Dollar Baby, Titanic — those are the norm, the always predictably fair skies in California that reassure us we can face another day.  It’s always sunny, it never rains and people are good, love stories win out, and happy endings? We eat those for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Those are the movies that give us the clear skies, the uptick, the soothing.

We used to have a saying around here that went like this, “The Oscars are about who WILL win, not who you want to win.”  And believe me, had it not been for that run of great movies — a fleeting moment of greatness in an otherwise ongoing parade of temporary, fleeting glory?  I would never have been lulled into believing things could ever change.  Nonetheless, after so many years of this, it is less interesting than it ever has been to predict how “they” will vote.  Why, because ultimately, I’ve stopped caring about how “they” will vote, because I’ve very nearly stopped caring what “they” think.

But drill down a little deeper and you come back to, “it’s not a ‘they’ so much as an ‘us.'” The Oscar voters reflect public opinion with enough of an injection of critical acclaim so as not to be the People’s Choice awards.  They are a step above, perhaps, but they are still a consensus vote of a great many.  The point I’m trying to make here is that being an Oscar predictor is about as important as being a weatherman.  You can make a prediction that it’s going to rain today based on a few things you know about the weather, and by looking at the sky, and by stepping outside and holding out your hands to feel the raindrops starting to fall.  If it rains, and you’re right, others around you will say, “wow, you predicted it was going to rain and it rained.”  But at the end of the day, you’re still just a weatherman. The weatherman knows when to bring an umbrella, but he can’t see a cloudy day and take it personally.  The weatherman can’t be blamed for the rain or claim credit for a southerly breeze.

I remember when Kris Tapley stopped caring.  I remember the year.  He’d predicted, by some fluke, that Letters from Iwo Jima would win Best Picture. He actually thought it might go that way.  Making that call, taking that risk would have paid off big time if he’d been right. After that, he made a decision that he would see this as a game to be played to win.  And now, he’s successfully divorced his own personal opinion from his predictions.  Some still can’t do that. Jeff Wells is someone who can’t.

I’ve happily nestled back into who I was when this all began, someone who saw the Oscars as a game, and someone who loves the good movies with a fervor, an unending passion for those who reach for something different, something uncomfortable, something true.

In many ways, The Artist is one such film.  It is daring in its own way, perfect in its execution, but in another way, it is everything we’ve ever known about the movies gathered into one wide embrace.  All it asks of you is that you agree to watch a silent, black and white movie.  If you do, you will be given back what you’ve always wanted from the movies: love and a bit with a dog.  It’s every cinematic trope pieced together in a montage.  Moreover, it is very likely every Academy member’s nostalgic bliss.  See, this is how it used to be before things got ugly.

A better film is Martin Scorsese’s brilliant masterpiece, Hugo.  Hugo towers over the Artist in every way.  They are opposites – one is by a French filmmaker about American film, and the other is about a French filmmaker made by an American.  Hugo is Scorsese’s most autobiographical film to date — and yet the only thing people can talk about is the money.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, The Artist will succeed because it cost nothing to make.  Like The King’s Speech, like The Hurt Locker, the Oscars are now about rewarding low budgets.  Yet to make the kind of movie Hugo is, or the kind of movie Dragon Tattoo is, you need a lot of money.

“You always used money to …”
“Buy things.”

For me, a good movie is a good movie is a good movie; I don’t think about the money unless the movie is bad.  And Hugo is wonderful.

But The Artist is a formidable winner, to my mind.  So I will not protest its victory.  Were this a perfect world we would have many groups that thought differently and offered up different winners so that it was, at the very least, an exciting race.  But the Oscars, they’re like the weather. They are predictable up to a point but happily unpredictable in the same way a warm day in January feels like a blessing.  They happen to us.  We react to them.  But there isn’t a whole lot you can do except get out your umbrella and prepare for rain.  Or maybe we’ll get lucky. And what’s coming next isn’t something we could see looming on the horizon.

The easiest and safest way to avoid ridicule is to predict how the general consensus are predicting. You will never get the flukes right but you will never be called “clueless” or “lame” for getting it wrong.  This is how most people predict, and I dare say it’s how most people vote.  One of the reasons voters keep voting for the same thing is the combination of not wanting to look stupid and the mistaken notion that because something is already winning stuff that somehow makes it more inherently valuable.  Of course, it is more valuable in that people seem to agree that it’s “the best,” be that the critics idea of the best (Social Network) or the general public/industry’s idea of best (King’s Speech). An experiment was done on human nature where random people were asked which cup of coffee they preferred.  They didn’t know that all three cups of coffee were the same but because they were told one was more expensive than the other two, most of the people tested invariably believed that the one that cost more was “better.”

Therefore, just by winning the Producers Guild, a major award, that automatically tags the Artist as the more expensive cup of coffee.  And from here on out, it can’t lose.  It will probably win the DGA, which makes Michel Hazanavicius the first director since 1968 whose film won the musical/comedy for Best Picture at the Globe and then went on to win the Oscar for Picture and Director; he really needs to win the DGA to win the Oscar.  It’s easy to get caught up in the trauma of last year and think that Oscar voters will award a different director — like Martin Scorsese, for instance — or even Alexander Payne.  But you can feel the undertow pulling down when a sweep is afoot — and the same way Rob Marshall won the DGA (but lost the Oscar), Hazanavicius is most certainly going to win the Directors Guild award.

Next, the Screen Actors Guild award, by some miracle, might decide to award both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer — but then give their ensemble award to The Artist, thereby sealing the deal that not only will the Artist win Best Picture but it might sweep.  Of course, the King’s Speech holds the record for the least number of Oscar wins (4) for a film with 12 nominations.  Even Gladiator won 5.  That seems to indicate that there was sufficient blowback among the ranks.  Will The Artist have similar blowback or will it win as many as Slumdog Millionaire won, which was 8 out of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for?

Is The Artist Slumdog or is it Chicago? It is already following Chicago’s pattern more so than Slumdog’s except at the box office. It won musical/comedy at the Globes, though someone else won Director (Slumdog took both).  Chicago won the PGA, the DGA and the SAG – Slumdog won all of those too.  Chicago split the house and barely walked away with Best Picture at the Oscars, where The Pianist (rightly) stole its thunder in the final act.

Either which way, one is always torn between predicting odd picks for the hell of it, and predicting what the general consensus dictates. I’ve never been one to hide behind the opinions of many.   My nature is to resist that urge, to expect the impossible to become possible, to get caught up in the dreaded wishful thinking.   Therefore, as I give you my predictions here for the nominations I am playing the role of the weatherman – these aren’t what I want to happen, but what I think WILL happen.  Bundling up in a practical jacket is what a reliable weathergirl does.

And you, dear readers, don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

My Oscar Nominee Predictions:

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
The Help
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Moneyball

If there was 8 – one of these….
War Horse
Bridesmaids
Drive
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Actor
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
George Clooney,The Descendants
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar

Alternates:
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Demián Bichir, A Better Life

Actress
Meryl Streep,The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Viola Davis, The Help
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk about Kevin
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Alternates:
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Albert Brooks, Drive
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior

Alternate:

Patton Oswalt, Young Adult

Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Shaileen Woodley, The Descendants
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Berenice Bejo, The Artist

Alternate

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Carey Mulligan, Drive/Shame

Director
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Michel Hanazavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne,The Descendants
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Alternates:
Tate Taylor, The Help
Steven Spielberg, War Horse
Bennett Miller, Moneyball
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids
Diablo Cody, Young Adult
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation

Alternates:
Will Reiser, 50/50
JC Chandor, Margin Call
Tom McCarthy, Win/Win
Mike Mills, Beginners

Adapted Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, Stan Chervin, Moneyball
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton, Jim Rash,The Descendants
John Logan, Hugo
Tate Taylor, The Help
Steve Zaillian, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Alternate:
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, The Ides of March

Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
The Artist
Moneyball
The Descendants

Alternate:
Drive

Cinematography:
Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
Emmanuel Lubezki, Tree of Life
Bob Richardson, Hugo
Jeff Cronenweth, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Alternate:
Janusz Kaminski, War Horse

Art Direction:
Hugo
The Artist
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Midnight in Paris

Alternate:
Tree of Life

Sound Mixing
Hugo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Super 8
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
War Horse

Alternates:
Pirates: On Stranger Tides
Transformers

Sound Editing
Drive
Fast Five
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Super 8

Alternate:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers

Costume Design
The Artist
The Help
Harry Potter
Hugo
My Week with Marilyn

Original Score
Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
John Williams, War Horse
Howard Shore, Hugo
Thomas Newman, The Help

alt:  Alexandre Desplat, Extremely Loud Incredibly Close

Foreign Language Film (submissions)
A Separation (Iran)
In Darkness (Poland)
Pina (Germany)
Footnote (Israel)
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Taiwan)

Documentary Feature
Project Nim
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Buck
We Were Here
Undefeated

Alternate:
Pina
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat

Animated Feature
Rango
The Adventures of TinTin
Kung Fu Panda 2
Winnie the Pooh
Cars 2

Alternate:

Puss in Boots

Visual Effects
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Hugo
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The Tree of Life
Captain America

Makeup
The Artist
The Iron Lady
Hugo

Song
The Living Proof, Mary J Blige, The Help
Pictures in My Head, Muppets
Life’s a Happy Song, Muppets
Lay Your Head Down, Sinead O’Connor
Hello Hello, Elton John Gnomeo and Juliet