• Pete Hammond -- who pegged Sandra Bullock as a contender weeks before anyone else -- surveys the lead actress field and finds it "all over the map." Pete concludes, "EW's annual survey of four academy voters (not the biggest sample exactly) had Streep winning with 3 to Bullock's 1. I think it is likely much much closer and Gabby and Carey are significant factors. Warner Bros. strategists working on Bullock's behalf privately tell me they prefer that. A tighter four-way contest is better for Bullock's ultimate chances of prevailing than going one-on-one with the imposing Streep. This one's going down to the wire." NOTES ON A SEASON
• "Down to the wire" could well describe the last-minute decision-making of Oscar voters. Tuesday at 5 p.m. PT marked the deadline for returning completed ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers -- that well-known "independent accounting firm" -- which will tally the votes. That pesky preferential method for best picture slowed the usual quick rate of return; in previous years, the majority of ballots were returned within 10 days of receipt. The ballot listed nominees in only 19 of the 24 categories. Academy members were required to attend screenings if they wished to vote for foreign-language film, documentary features and shorts, and animated and live-action shorts.
• The P.R. people for the Oscars are busy coming up with cute headlines for their now daily announcements of the latest bold-faced names slated to appear on Sunday's show. Tuesday's release was headlined "The Guys Have It" as it touted first-time appearances by Gerard Butler, Bradley Cooper, Tom Ford, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds and Sam Worthington, the third appearance by Jake Gyllenhaal and the fifth appearance for Keanu Reeves. AMPAS
• One guy that certainly has it all is Robert Osborne, who will be returning to the red carpet for the fifth year in a row to welcome Oscar's guests. Per the press release: "'Being on Oscar’s red carpet is unlike any other experience,' said Academy President Tom Sherak. 'Robert is the perfect person to welcome our guests and ease them into a night of spectacular celebration.' His red carpet celebrity chats will be audible to the other arriving guests as well as to the bleacher fans on the opposite side of the carpet." The included bio notes, "In addition to writing a column for The Hollywood Reporter, Osborne is the primetime host of Turner Classic Movies and a frequent host of Academy public events in New York and Los Angeles. He also is the author of the Academy’s '80 Years of the Oscar,' the official history of the Academy Awards, and hosts Robert Osborne’s Classic Film Festival in Athens, Georgia." AMPAS
• As per an AP report, Jeff Bridges crooned the right kind of tunes in "Crazy Heart" to win an Oscar. "With a .500 batting average, country has a better track record than other music genres at the Oscars. Soul has produced a string of Oscar losers, including Eddie Murphy for supporting actor as the fictional James 'Thunder' Early in 2006’s 'Dreamgirls' and Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne in the lead categories as Tina and Ike Turner in 1993’s 'What’s Love Got to Do With It.' Jazz and standards singers also have a spotty Oscar history, the losers including Michelle Pfeiffer for best actress as fictional torch singer Susie Diamond in 1989’s 'The Fabulous Baker Boys' and Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in 1972’s 'Lady Sings the Blues.' As French songbird Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard won best actress for 2007’s 'La Vie en Rose.' Jamie Foxx could be an honorary winner for the country crowd with his best-actor triumph as Ray Charles in 2004’s 'Ray.' Charles’ music drew on soul, blues, jazz, country and other genres, and he did a two-volume series of albums titled 'Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.' " AP
• As Josh Duboff reports, "New York’s Oscar fans may be in for a surprise Sunday night … and it won’t be because of a major upset. ABC’s New York affiliate, WABC-TV, is threatening to pull the Oscar telecast if it doesn’t receive the payment it is demanding from Cablevision. The TV station and cable provider, who have not had a deal for two years (they’ve been 'granting extensions on a month-to-month basis'), are disputing retransmission fees. As a bargaining tactic, ABC has said it will inform subscribers that they may no longer have access to the station beginning March 7, the day of ABC’s Academy Awards telecast. NEW YORK
Top photos: Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side" (Warners) and Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia" (Columbia)
Bottom photo: Robert Osborne at the 81st annual Academy Awards. Credit: AMPAS