What do ruffled petticoats, Romulan tattoos, flying houses, and distressed dolphins all have in common? They’re likely to win Oscars.
Best Animated Feature
The only real challenger to Pixar’s throne this year is Wes Anderson’s delightful stop-motion adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox. But Up‘s five total nominations (including Best Picture) make it hard to beat.
Best Foreign Language Film
France’s A Prophet and Austrian director Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon have gotten lots of buzz, but look for Argentina’s decades-spanning crime drama El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) to pull off an upset.
Best Documentary Feature
Though Food, Inc. has its ardent fans, the edge here goes to Louie Psihoyos’ dolphin-killing exposé, The Cove, which boasts some veteran Hollywood producers, not to mention a sweep of the major pre-Oscar awards.
If Avatar manages to win all of its other below-the-line categories, it’s got a shot here too. But since so much of The Hurt Locker‘s suspense lies with its expert editing, its chances are a cut above.
Best Art Direction
Some purists may balk at Avatar, since so much of its production design was computer-created, and Sherlock Holmes is their likely alternative. But most voters won’t be able to deny Avatar‘s breathtaking beauty.
Inglourious Basterds has an outside chance here, but this is a race between the lush Avatar and the gritty Hurt Locker. Technology could work against Avatar; bank on The Hurt Locker‘s scrappy camera work instead.
Best Original Score
Even the biggest Hurt Locker sweep won’t reach this corner. And though Avatar may feature music by James Horner, who won for his last James Cameron collaboration, Titanic, it’s not likely to win either. Up‘s Michael Giacchino, a past nominee for Ratatouille, helped bring the animated tale to rousing life.
Best Original Song
With the Randy Newman vote sure to be split between his two nominated tracks from The Princess and the Frog, this statuette belongs to Crazy Heart‘s country-rock duo of T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham, whose ”The Weary Kind” perfectly encapsulates the film’s hangdog charm.
Best Costume Design
Royalty almost always rules in this category. So the regal frocks from The Young Victoria (designed by two-time winner Sandy Powell) are the clear favorite.
The sumptuous Young Victoria could eke out a win here, but since the Academy often recognizes fantasy and sci-fi in this category, Star Trek‘s freaky Romulans may prove not only scary but Oscar-worthy.
Best Visual Effects
In another year, Star Trek and District 9 could have been front-runners. But not when the moon Pandora is in the equation. It’s Avatar, hands down.
Best Sound Editing
True, most of Avatar‘s hype has surrounded its eye-popping visuals. But voters will think back to how the film transported them aurally as well.
Best Sound Mixing
Last year the two sound prizes went to different films (Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight). The Hurt Locker has a shot at this award, which covers a film’s overall sound (whereas Sound Editing covers aural effects), but Avatar will still probably take it.
Best Live Action Short
Kavi, about a boy born into slavery in modern India, tugs at the heartstrings. But we think the prize may go to The New Tenants for its Tarantinoesque banter.
Best Animated Short
Four-time winner Nick Park is a safe bet for his new Wallace & Gromit Claymation ‘toon, A Matter of Loaf and Death. (Possible spoiler: Logorama, a clever, profane send-up of corporate mascots and logos.)
Best Documentary Short
The Last Truck, about the final days of a shuttered GM plant in Ohio, is topical. Yet our money’s on Music by Prudence, about a remarkable, crystal-voiced disabled singer from Zimbabwe. — Thom Geier and Dave Karger