Who will win big at the Oscars?

At this point, guessing the major Oscar winners is worthless — we pretty much know who’s going to win the big ones. Instead, what makes the prediction process fun is its capacity to inspire debate: Sure, we know Meryl Streep is going to win, but should she?

And for those of us filling out mock ballots, this argumentative gray area provides just about all the excitement we can hope to glean from the Oscars, especially considering that half the celebrities who end up winning don’t seem to care. (Given the choice between Sean Penn’s acceptance speech from 2009 and Three 6 Mafia’s party on stage in 2006, I’d choose DJ Paul and Juicy J every single time.)

So without further ado, let’s jump right into this Sunday’s four biggest Oscar categories by sorting out who deserves to win from who actually will, making our bold predictions as we go.

“The Tree of Life” most deserves the Oscar, and my defense is simple: no movie was more daring and had more to say about humanity than Malick’s all-encompassing work of art. That being said, it’s a movie made by Terrence Malick. First of all, the famously reclusive auteur probably won’t even show up to the ceremony, and second, the universal one-line description of the film is “DINOSAURS!!!!” That’s not a good sign.

Instead, most Hollywood voters only have two options: “The Descendants” and “The Artist.” On the one hand, we have an Alexander Payne movie (think a better “Sideways,” with less Paul Giamatti and more Hawaii). On the other hand, we have a silent French film about a silent American movie star caught in a career slump. Please. This pick is much easier than people seem to think. It’s awkward tragicomic Alexander Payne versus a heartwarming success story with an innovative plot — book it. Harvey Weinstein isn’t leaving Kodak without an Oscar. Terrence Malick and his dinosaurs be damned.

Pick: “The Artist”

Again, Terrence Malick has earned this Oscar. “The Tree of Life” is definitively his film; no other director poured as much of himself into a movie as Malick did this year. But the film is too metaphorical, too sweeping, too Malick (“DINOSAURS!!!!”). He really doesn’t have a shot in hell of winning, and that’s truly too bad.

So it comes down to kooky Alexander Payne and newcomer Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”). And even if their films were true competitors (not at all, in my opinion), the general rule of thumb is to predict the winner based on how cool his name sounds. Hazanavicius. Seems like an Oscar winner to me.

Pick: Michel Hazanavicius

George Clooney and Jean Dujardin are in the only real battle of the evening. Dujardin is the sexy pick — the suave French throwback actor whose one line of dialogue in “The Artist” makes your knees quake “with pleasure.” But across from him is Hollywood humanitarian George Clooney, the American whose role as Dr. Ross on “ER” through the mid-’90s did the same thing that Dr. House did in the 2000s: make being a doctor cool.

The problem here is perception. People seem to think that George Clooney is overdue for an Oscar — but what should he have won it for? “Batman & Robin”? Clooney is a very good actor, and he’s recently been in some pretty good films, but what’ll carry him to the Oscar is his status of being George Fuckin’ Clooney. In comparison, Jean Dujardin doesn’t stand a chance, even if he gave the best performance of the year. He’s handsome, yes, talented, yes, and starred in what will probably win Best Picture, yes, but he’s still not George Clooney. Only the French equivalent.

But in a lot of ways, the time seems a little off for Clooney. The field is too open. When Clooney wins Best Actor, it’ll be because he was the absolute hands-down favorite to win. No debate. And if you think about it, Clooney probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pick: Jean Dujardin

Michelle Williams did work in “My Week with Marilyn,” and the Oscars love biopics (and their quasi-counterparts). And Rooney Mara (in my personal favorite female performance of the year) was equally provocative and captivating in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” But these two young ’uns cancel each other out.

Enter: Meryl Streep. The reigning Hollywood goddess is a surefire win this Sunday, for not only was her acting top-notch, but if you want to make a list of overdue Oscar winners that are still alive, I’d nestle her somewhere in the top five. (It still astounds me that she’s gone 30 years without a Best Actress Oscar.)

Pick: Meryl Fuckin’ Streep

So that’s that — I’ve done the best I can. Hopefully I’m more right than wrong, but then again, hopefully there are some surprises this year.

Either way, at least we’ve got Billy Crystal to entertain us.

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