Oscar 2012 picks

From the strong, literally silent types to the iron ladies, we predict this year's Academy Award winners.

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  • Octavia Spencer, left, and Viola Davis in The Help

  • Jean Dujardin and Brnice Bejo in The Artist

  • Meryl Streep, center, in The Iron Lady

  • Christopher Plummer in Beginners

  • Brad Pitt, left, and Jonah Hill in Moneyball

Octavia Spencer, left, and Viola Davis in The Help

Best picture


The race is on: The Academy's clearly in a reminiscing mood, with nine Best Picture nominees looking inquiringly to the past—from recent (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) to distant (The Tree of Life), literary (Midnight in Paris) to cinematic (Hugo). The silent-movie valentine The Artist throws an ingratiating ear-to-ear grin on top of all the wistful reflection, which may give it the winner's edge.
Who should win: Love it or hate it, Terrence Malick's eras-spanning The Tree of Life inspires the kind of impassioned reactions that will endure beyond awards season.
Who will win: The Academy won't pass up this rare chance to give top prizes to something black-and-white and sound-free: The Artist wins by virtue of nostalgia.
Our favorite winner from Oscar history: The Academy has hardly been kind to thrillers, but Jonathan Demme's expert suspenser The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was a rare instance when the voters saw fit to reward the bloodletting rather than treat it like the plague.—KU

Best director


The race is on: Allen, Malick, Scorsese, Payne: Were this a typical Oscar year, the abundance of auteurs vying for the prize would have made this a tough race to call. But when your Best Picture front-runner is a silent movie directed by a Frenchman best known for making spy-movie spoofs, well...typical kinda goes out the window, right?
Who should win: You can't deny that Martin Scorsese infused Hugo with his singular cinephiliac mix of the personal, the pleasurable and the professional. He deserves a victory lap.
Who will win: The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius already has several major awards tucked under his belt—including a DGA win, which is one of the most accurate predictors of Best Director Oscars around. Silence is golden.
Our favorite winner from Oscar history: Long before new Hollywood made formally radical filmmaking the norm, Mike Nichols nabbed a Best Director win for The Graduate (1967)—proof that maverick methods didn't automatically equal going home empty-handed.—DF

Best actor


The race is on: It's a remarkably tough category to call this year, with A-lister George Clooney (The Descendants) bracketed against some impressive dark horses—along with the ultimate overlooked actor, Gary Oldman, enjoying his first nomination ever, for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (he should have already won twice during the course of his glorious 35-year career).
Who should win: Brad Pitt made the hugest leap in 2011 with Moneyball, a modulation of his easy charm into Redfordian gravitas.
Who will win: Tight as this race is, The Artist's likable Jean Dujardin will squeak by on that retro flick's late-inning momentum.
Our favorite winner from Oscar history: So many good ones to choose from, but pay a return visit to F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus (1984)—he invests the villainous Salieri with envy, hubris and even a touch of soul.—JR

Best actress


The race is on: You got a movie star played by a movie star (Michelle Williams), a fanboylicious tattooed hacker (Rooney Mara), a quietly dignified Southern domestic (Viola Davis), a defiant British prime minister (Meryl Streep) and [Shudder] Albert friggin' Nobbs (Glenn Close). Davis is due, but she's surely going to have some competition from two-time winner and frequent nominee Streep, who last stood at the victor's podium in 1983.
Who should win: Streep expertly toes the line between commitment to craft and shameless awards baiting as The Iron Lady's Mags Thatcher. Give the woman a third!
Who will win: The Academy loves to appear progressive. The Help's Davis will take home the gold for saying "Oh, snap!" to racism.
Our favorite winner from Oscar history: There are showier victors, but to our eyes, nothing beats Jane Fonda's mesmerizingly subdued work—witness her slow, teary breakdown during the tense climax—as a beleaguered prostitute in Alan Pakula's paranoid thriller Klute (1971).—KU

Best supporting actor


The race is on: Kudos to Apatow-protg-turned-major-player Jonah Hill for parlaying his dramatic turn in Moneyball into a deserved nomination. The competition is stiff, however, with four prior-at-bat contenders: Kenneth Branagh (five previous nominations, one for acting), Nick Nolte (two), Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer (one each).
Who should win: Branagh's Sir Laurence Olivier wasn't the buzzed-about performance in My Week with Marilyn, but the former "new Olivier's" theatrical deconstruction of the old one deserves a statue.
Who will win: Plummer's fresh-outta-the-closet dad in Beginners has already nabbed him a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and too many critics-group awards to keep track. It's his year.
Our favorite winner from Oscar history: Sure, he may have been borrowed a thing or two from Brando's Don Corleone—but Robert De Niro's victory for The Godfather: Part II (1974) officially ushered the most groundbreaking actor of his generation into the Academy Award winner's circle.—DF

Best supporting actress


The race is on: Inspirational awards-bait The Help lands not one but two candidates in this category, potentially threatening a split vote. (Why not nominate Jessica Chastain for one of her other 27 films?) Meanwhile, the mere presence of Bridesmaids' subversive Melissa McCarthy is occasion for cheering.
Who should win: The Artist's Brnice Bejo is the soul of that film and the reason it works so effectively on the tear ducts.
Who will win: Barring an unexpected Albert Nobbs upset (not kidding), we see this one going to multiple-crix-nod recipient Octavia Spencer for her sassy, heartfelt work in The Help.
Our favorite winner from Oscar history: Dianne Wiest played a real New Yorker in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), wracked with dating and work anxieties, cocaine jitters and utter huggability.—JR

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