Don't believe Oscar pundits who are over-smug about their predictions. Some suspense still surrounds who'll win the Academy Awards in a few top races, including best picture, actress and original screenplay.
Yes, virtually all pundits say "The Hurt Locker" will prevail for the top Oscar, but it's really been hurting lately, being under attack from three fronts: 1.) for not being accurate; 2.) for being too accurate (an army sergeant claims the movie rips off his own story); 3.) for its producer being banned from the ceremony for breaking campaign rules.
Most of this hubbub has occurred at the tail end of the voting period, but many academy members were late submitting their choices, confused over how to fill out the preferential ballot for best picture. According to one report, more than 1,500 out of 5,800 ballots were still out late last week and more than 500 were submitted on the final deadline day (Tuesday).
Late submission probably helps "Inglourious Basterds," which got a post-noms push from Quentin Tarantino's pals, who threw him bashes on both coasts to rally support that might've come earlier if Weinstein Co. had given up on "Nine" when its kudos prospects started to fade. Most Oscar voters I've dished with say that they ranked "Basterds" in one of their top three slots. That's not true of "Avatar," which has lots of No. 1 ranked votes -- probably more than "Basterds" -- but also lots of lower rankings, which pulls down its over-all prospects.
"The Hurt Locker" seems to have the most No. 1 votes, but it's also ranked low by many voters. Some are irked by the blitz of recent bad news. Others think the film is overrated. Bottom line: It doesn't fit the typical Oscar profile of a best-picture winner, so it's vulnerable. It doesn't feature A-list stars. It was a box-office flop. It's about the Iraqi war, a subject that's usually cursed at the Oscars. Nonetheless, "The Hurt Locker's" support among Oscar voters is immense and wide. If I was betting a ranch, I'd put it on "The Hurt Locker" to win best picture, but since I'm merely wagering my professional reputation, I'll stick with "Basterds" as my official prediction, thank you.
As for best actress: Yes, Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") seems to be ahead, according to pundits. But they're not academy members. When you talk with actual Oscar voters, you hear many of them say that the film and Bullock's performance are too lightweight. You hear lots of votes for Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and -- surprise -- Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious"). Still, smart money is on Bullock considering she won both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards and seems to have the most buzz across Hollywood.
If "The Hurt Locker" pulls off a sweep, as many pundits believe, then it may take the Oscar for original screenplay with it. Right now that category seems like the property of "Basterds," but sweeps are powerful things. If this one is strong enough, it could mean victories for screenplay, cinematography and both sound categories too -- all races that are currently up in the air.
Illustration by Tom O'Neil