Best Picture


  • “The Artist”
  • “The Descendants”
  • “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
  • “The Help”
  • “Hugo”
  • “Midnight in Paris”
  • “Moneyball”
  • “Tree of Life”
  • “War Horse”

Vegas odds favor: “The Artist”

Category summary

If there’s a motif to this year’s Best Picture nominees, it’s movies set in the past. Of the nine nominees, only two – “The Descendants” and “Midnight in Paris” – are set in the present (and “Midnight in Paris” evokes time travel). “The Descendants,” which was filmed on location in Hawaii, is an exploration of the condition of the modern family; it’s rooted in everyday drama. Each of the rest is tethered to some event in (or, at least, aesthetic of) the past.

World War I is our starting point: “War Horse” is set at the outbreak and over by the time the 1920s begin. That decade brings “The Artist,” which not only locates itself in dying years of the silent movie era but is actually about that Hollywood transition as well. “Hugo” is set in Paris, pre-World War II, and presents quite an interesting juxtaposition when its portrayal of childhood is compared to the 1950s life in “Tree of Life” (which, speaking of the past, famously flashes back to the beginning of the universe). A look into race relations lets “The Help” take care of the ’60s, and then there’s a little jump forward to “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” – set in the aftermath of 9/11 – and “Moneyball,” which chronicles the 2002 Oakland A’s. – L.W.

Best Leading Actor


  • Demi?n Bichir in “A Better Life”
  • George Clooney in “The Descendants”
  • Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
  • Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
  • Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”

Vegas odds favor:
Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”

Category summary

Although many may know Gary Oldman only as Sirius Black in the “Harry Potter” series or as James Gordon in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” the British actor enjoyed a whirlwind career in the ’90s, playing such roles as Sid Vicious in “Sid and Nancy,” Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK” and Ivan Korshunov in “Air Force One.” The actor has appeared in more than 40 movies but is just receiving his first Academy Award nod with a nomination for Best Leading Actor for the role of George Smiley in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

And does he deserve it. Although audience members may not agree on what actually happened in the hazy novel-based spy thriller, they did agree that Oldman’s performance was one for the books, with The New York Times hailing the actor’s role of Smiley as “played with delicacy and understated power.” Oldman was nominated for 17 different best actor awards for the role, but he was only awarded by two organizations thus far. With the Academy Awards as the final pending nomination, Oldman is likely ready to have saved the best in his 30-year career for last. – A.D.

Best Leading Actress


  • Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Viola Davis in “The Help”
  • Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
  • Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
  • Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”

Vegas odds favor: Viola Davis in “The Help”

Category summary

Based on the number of “Viola should have won” tweets after the Golden Globes, fans of the actress from “The Help” will rejoice should she take home the Oscar. If the Academy caves to popular sentiment and declares Davis the Best Leading Actress, her Academy Award nominations-to-wins ratio will be 2:1. But should Davis win this year, Meryl Streep’s Academy Award nominations-to-wins ratio will be 17:2.

Although Streep has been resoundingly declared the best living actress and has received a record number of both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, she has not taken home the Oscar since 1982. After awarding her Best Actress for “Sophie’s Choice,” it seems the Academy felt that nominations were reward enough: Streep was nominated for a whopping 13 awards after that year and didn’t win a single one. This year she’s nominated for playing Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” and although her portrayal is uncanny, the unpopularity of her subject and too-sweeping nature of the screenplay may damn her to yet another polite consolation smile. Particulars aside, it’s high time the Academy put its money where its mouth is and give the poor woman the award she deserves. – A.D.

Best Director


  • “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” Alexander Payne
  • “Hugo” Martin Scorsese
  • “Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
  • “The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick

Vegas odds favor: “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius

Category summary

Although Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” likely will be the major winner of the night, at first glance it seems the director just got incredibly lucky with the screenplay. The Parisian writer/director had only three feature films under his belt before taking on “The Artist,” and they weren’t exactly films worth boasting about. Hazanavicius’ previous claim to fame was the OSS 117 series, two “Austin Powers”-esque spy films featuring none other than the suave Jean Dujardin as the karate-chopping, bon mot-dropping OSS 117. Both films (“Cairo, Nest of Spies” and “Lost in Rio”) are, in a word, ridiculous, and a far cry from the “wonder of the age” the Los Angeles Times proclaimed “The Artist” to be.

So how could Hazanavicius have achieved such success with his latest film? By writing a screenplay without spoken dialogue. Had “The Artist” not been a silent film, Hazanavicius could never have used French-speaking Jean Dujardin alongside the incredibly American John Goodman, nor, I daresay, would an American audience have had any desire to sit through a foreign film. But Hazanavicius found success with “The Artist” because it had just the amount of French Americans like: thin moustaches, berets and melodrama. – A.D.

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)


  • “The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius)
  • “Bridesmaids” (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig)
  • “Margin Call” (J.C. Chandor)
  • “Midnight in Paris” (Woody Allen)
  • “A Separation” (Asghar Farhadi)

Vegas odds favor: “Midnight in Paris”

Category summary

It seems incredible that a movie that features an extended sequence involving bad Brazilian food, stomach discomfort in an elegant formal-wear store and, ultimately, diarrhea in the center lane of a crowded city street could be nominated for an award honoring the script writing, but here we are. “Bridesmaids,” the movie acclaimed as much for its gender boundary-bending antics as the actual comedy it contained, has secured writers Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig a chance at taking home a statuette in the Academy Awards’ Best Writing (Original Screenplay) category.

Wiig, a veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” has a brief list of writing credentials. In fact, “Bridesmaids” is the first wide-release movie script to hit theaters for both her and writing partner Mumolo. But they’re far from the only nominees with a short writing resume: According to IMDB, the writers of “Margin Call,” “The Artist” and “A Separation” are each similarly inexperienced in writing feature-length American movies. Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that none of those four is considered the award’s frontrunner: Their inexperience in the field stands in stark contrast to Woody Allen (for “Midnight in Paris”), who has been cranking out about a script a year since the early ’70s and has earned 15 screenplay nominations from the Academy for his work. – L.W.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)


  • “The Descendants” (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)
  • “Hugo” (John Logan)
  • “The Ides of March” (George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon)
  • “Moneyball” (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin)
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan)

Vegas odds favor: “The Descendants”

Category summary

The writing process for “The Ides of March” must have seemed like two projects in one. The first, a traditional movie script for a tense thriller set in the well-trod trenches of the battleground state primaries, was credited as an adaptation of the play “Farragut North.” In a 2008 review, a reviewer for The New York Times called the play “predictable but enjoyable,” and wondered whether the trite dialogue was an intentional nod to the fact that politicians and their campaign supervisors are themselves continuously trying to fit a mold. That question is rendered a little moot by the second facet of Clooney, Heslov and Willimon’s script: sweepingly overt nods to Barack Obama’s campaign strategies – a populist outsider persona familiar right down to the high contrast poster.

That script is just one of two appearances in the best adapted screenplay nominees for Clooney, but the other comes in the style of a cameo. Clooney is the lead in category frontrunner “The Descendants,” a performance for which he’s nominated for the best actor statuette. That film, as well as the other four, were each adapted from books, with dark horse pick “Moneyball” the sole entry from a work of non-fiction (Michael Lewis’ 2003 book of the same name). – L.W.