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Oscar Predictions: THR's Awards Expert Scott Feinberg and Critic Todd McCarthy on Who Will Win, Who Should Win

Best Picture

The Hollywood Reporter's awards analyst and film reviewer deliver their take on this year's Academy awards odds.

Who will win vs. who should win? THR awards analyst Scott Feinberg has read the tea leaves to declare early victors at the 84th Academy Awards, while THR chief film critic Todd McCarthy declares who actually deserves to go home with Oscar that night.

BEST PICTURE

Who Will Win: Having claimed virtually every major precursor honor -- including the two strongest Oscar bellwethers, the Producers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America -- The Artist, the French-financed, Los Angeles-shot, Harvey Weinstein-distributed love letter to the movies has gone on to seduce Hollywood since being unveiled at Cannes in May. It is now poised to become the first silent film in 83 years and the first black-and-white film in 18 years to win the top Oscar.

Who Should Win: I voted for The Descendants, Alexander Payne's masterful, mirthful drama in the various critics' groups awards competitions in December and have not been the least bit tempted to change my mind since. Not only is the film outstanding in all the essential conventional departments -- directing, writing, acting, narrative conviction, surprise and depth -- but its embracing and yet bemused attitude toward humans' groping manner of dealing with life, love and death represents a strongly articulated authorial voice.

BEST DIRECTOR

Who Will Win: Before this year, few outside of France had even heard of Michel Hazanavicius, though he had scored commercial hits in Europe with his OSS 117 spy parodies. Then the 44-year-old auteur behind The Artist made a splash at Cannes. His funny and moving film has since won him widespread notice, and he has testified to his love for old movies. Most important, The Artist earned him the DGA Award, which has correctly predicted the best director Oscar in 57 of the past 63 years.

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Who Should Win: Alexander Payne, for the reasons noted above. Beyond those, however, is the demonstrable point that Payne has done nothing but grow and mature as a filmmaker. While so many directors do their best work in their first, second and/or third films, Payne has the almost unique distinction of having only taken forward steps, beginning with Citizen Ruth and on through Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and now The Descendants, a film that injects even the grimmest, toughest moments with humor.

BEST ACTOR

Who Will Win: Charming and debonair, The Artist's leading man, Jean Dujardin, has been called the "Clooney of France" and now finds himself in a tight race with George himself -- both won Globes, with Dujardin taking the prize for comedy/musical actor.  Since then, he also has won the SAG Award (the past seven winners of which repeated at the Oscars) and picked up the BAFTA Award, and so he is on track to become the first Frenchman to win a best actor Academy Award.

Who Should Win: George Clooney, for the very reasons that people now bemoan the fact that a great actor like Cary Grant never won a competitive Oscar because he was too charming and made it seem too easy. Guys like Grant, Clooney, Newman and Redford can skate through on looks to make an impact. But as the father and about-to-be widower in The Descendants, Clooney illuminated every dimension of his character that I could want to know about -- and was charming (and self-deprecating) in the bargain.

BEST ACTRESS

Who Will Win: Look for The Help's Viola Davis to hold off Meryl Streep's bid and take home the best actress prize. Several factors fall in her favor: She has not previously won (Streep has picked up trophies twice, albeit not in 29 years); she is up for a well-liked film (which, unlike Streep's, is nominated for best picture); by becoming only the second black best actress winner, she would be making history; and she has already beaten Streep on the latter's home turf with the BFCA critics and actors of SAG.

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Who Should Win: I have adored Viola Davis onscreen and onstage in many roles and would be happy to see her win for any number of reasons. But strictly on the basis of their nominated performances, Davis did what I knew she could do in The Help, while Meryl Streep pulled off something I wasn't sure she or anyone could accomplish in The Iron Lady; she somehow channeled Margaret Thatcher to the point where I believed I was beholding the real thing even in a film that comes up short in a host of ways.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Who Will Win: Revered 82-year-old Christopher Plummer, having won every major precursor award, will cap his half-century screen career with his first Oscar for playing a widower who enthusiastically comes out as gay late in life in Beginners. Since he has been nominated just once before, for 2009's The Last Station, the accolades are long overdue. The only person standing in his way is fellow Oscar-less octogenarian Max von Sydow, nominated for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Who Should Win: Christopher Plummer, then Max von Sydow, a virtual toss-up. If the winner is either of these great veterans, the award will in large measure be regarded as a life achievement award, so stellar are not only both men's careers but how creatively vital they remain into their 80s. I'll be delighted either way. Plummer has the showier, more full-bodied emotional role here, while von Sydow's performance is entirely silent (a top Oscar strategy this year).

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Who Will Win: An established character actress, Octavia Spencer really came into her own this year, playing the subversive Minny Jackson in The Help. She has swept the awards field (including the SAG Award, the winner of which has repeated at the Oscars eight of the past 10 years) and should have enough momentum to win despite having to compete with a co-star -- prolific ingenue Jessica Chastain -- in the same category. And that didn't keep The Fighter's Melissa Leo from winning in 2011. 

Who Should Win: Janet McTeer broke onto the film scene a number of years ago, then receded to a point where I rather forgot about her until -- wham!-- in walks this character in Albert Nobbs who looks, talks and postures like a big, swaggering guy, though there is something unusual about him. Hmmm. One soon sees why. To say this outstanding actress steals such a modest film is to say not nearly enough, so galvanizing, convincing and funny is she in this period cross-dressing context.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Who Will Win: The prolific Woody Allen hasn't waited for the Academy's validation to keep turning out new films year in and year out. Although his latest nomination extended his record for most screenplay Oscar noms to 15, he hasn't actually won an Oscar in 25 years. That should change since his Paris-set fantasy Midnight in Paris not only grossed more than any of his previous films, nearly $150 million worldwide, but its screenplay already has won Critics' Choice and Golden Globe awards.

Who Should Win: With the skill of a practiced playwright, first-time writer-director J.C. Chandor placed a group of high-finance executives and analysts in the hothouse of an investment firm on the brink of the 2008 meltdown to withering effect in Margin Call. It's tough to convey, much less make gripping, the intricacies of high-stakes finance, but Chandor used tart dialogue and an array of vividly drawn characters to pump blood into a dry numbers game, resulting in the best screen drama to date about the Wall Street calamity.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Who Will Win: The Descendants, written by director Alexander Payne and the writing team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, has five nominations as it arrives at this year's Oscars, but the adapted screenplay category is where the Academy is likely to bestow recognition on the domestic drama adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel. Payne himself won this category seven years ago for Sideways, and in January the National Board of Review bestowed its best adapted screenplay prize on Descendants.

Who Should Win: I tried reading the Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel that served as the basis for The Descendants I like so much and I couldn't do it; on the page, the story seemed a bit banal, the narrative approach too dawdling. So it makes the achievement of Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash even greater to have transformed a work into something so pointed, observant and emotionally engaging. Everything that seemed diffuse on the page had been sharpened and made pertinent by the time it hit the screen.

FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Who Will Win: Virtually every awards group that already has handed out its honors has lined up behind A Separation, Asghar Farhadi's stirring Farsi-language drama about people struggling to communicate with one another. The Academy has taken notice as well, not only nominating it for best foreign-language film, but also including Farhadi among the list of original screenplay nominees. Just the second Iranian film nominated in this category, it would become the first to win the foreign-language prize.

Who Should Win: Just as war drums are beating louder where Iran is concerned, here is the Iranian film that makes Iranians, and even Iranian society, more accessible and comprehensible than anything seen on these shores before. The way writer-director Asghar Farhadi peels back layer after layer of the story, and with them reveals insights into the characters and the social fabric, is masterful. The competition in this category is nothing to sneeze at, but A Separation has the weight of a completely achieved work.

ANIMATED FEATURE

Who Will Win: Rango, Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp's post-Pirates reunion, is something of an anomaly among the features being turned out by major animation houses: An homage to the Western, it's a 2D film based on original material in an era when animation is dominated by 3D sequels. But it has grossed nearly $250 million worldwide and won the Annie Award, and a big competitor failed to materialize when Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, which won PGA and Globe awards, didn't get a nom.

Who Should Win: It's possible that, second by second, no film filled its frames with more density and crazy imagination than this one. Perhaps feeling liberated after his years on the Pirates of the Caribbean leviathan, Gore Verbinski and his collaborators obviously had a blast mashing, mixing and otherwise combusting movie lore, Western and other-wise, giving Rango a hyper-realistic edge while feeding it through a cock-eyed surrealist blender. The result was surprisingly coherent and often madly entertaining.

SCORE

Who Will Win: Since the Academy reverted to having just one category for musical scores, this contest has been carried by the film that went on to win best picture only twice in the past 12 years. But Ludovic Bource's score for The Artist is likely to buck those odds, because the movie isn't totally silent -- its score is always front and center. It already has taken home its share of hardware from the Golden Globes, the Broadcast Film Critics and the BAFTAs, so the Academy almost certainly will name that tune.

Who Should Win: Although The Artist incorporates the influences of film composers of the sound era and therefore doesn't entirely represent the way silent films were musically accompanied, there is no reason to be fanatically purist on this count. Ludovic Bource's multifaceted score wonderfully elicits and magnifies all the desired emotions of the story and in a charming, dextrous manner. And one can't hold Bource responsible for the extended lift from Vertigo, which was the director's choice.

CINEMATOGARPHY

Who Will Win: Best picture and best cinematography have gone to the same film 27 times in the 83-year history of the Oscars and just twice in the past 13 years, but Guillaume Schiffman's beautiful black-and-white work in The Artist will be seen as too distinct and beautiful to ignore (even if Emmanuel Lubezki's The Tree of Life lensing has its champions).

Who Should Win: If there's a no-brainer among my choices, this is it. After Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki is probably the greatest cinematographer working on major U.S./international films who hasn't won an Oscar, and even those who don't buy into Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life readily admit to its stunning visual quality. Having been shot predominantly with natural light, this is what I like to call "pure" cinematography in the old sense -- work achieved during the shooting and not heavily manipulated in postproduction.

(Click here for Scott's picks in and analysis of all 24 categories!)