ALYNDA'S OSCAR PICKS
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
*Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Take me anywhere. Put me in a darkened theater and send me to France to spar with Hemingway (Midnight in Paris), to Hawaii with Clooney by my side (The Descendants)or even to the Jim Crow South to learn anew about dignity (The Help). Those are worthy trips, but another stands out in black and white. The Artist does expertly what few films do well: It captivates. Stripped of color and chatter, the film bursts with creativity in the hands of director Michel Hazanavicius (who deserves to win Best Director, in spite of strong competition from Hugo's Martin Scorsese). Star Berenice Bejo is pure charm as the next big thing in talkies, but the film belongs to Dujardin, whose turn as a marquee idol brought low is expressive and forceful, all the more so for its silence. Oh, and Uggie, Dujardin's debonair canine costar, deserves his own Oscar. Maybe it is as 1999's Best Picture winner, Shakespeare in Love, put it (rather archly): "Love and a bit with a dog, that's what they want." When a movie is this beautifully done, then yes.
Glenn Close Albert Nobbs
*Viola Davis The Help
Rooney Mara The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep Iron Lady
Michelle Williams My Week with Marilyn
As a maid, she cooks the meals, cleans the toilets, and endures asphyxiating abuse from people who barely pay a living wage. But as an actress, Davis knows her trickiest task is threading the needle-honoring the trials of 1960s African-American domestics, while keeping her portrayal of stooped but noble Abilene from slipping into stereotype. Not to worry. Davis is so keyed in to the hurt, fear and faith of women like Abilene, that the film's very authenticity rests on her. But it's always that way with this actress, who consistently does stunning work in quiet roles. It would be to the Academy's credit to reward her and prove that it values less showy turns. Yes, Davis deserves an Oscar, but it's Oscar who needs Davis.
MORE OSCAR PICKS
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Wildly sexy Cuban romance Chico & Rita (now playing) follows jazz musicians whose love spans decades and continents.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is the last in a stellar series that helped save the lives of the West Memphis Three, freed from death row.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen rediscovers wonder in Midnight in Paris, along with nostalgia, delight and wanderlust.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Heck of a pitch: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin take a business book, come up with Moneyball.
If the Muppets win for "Man or Muppet," that squeal will be mine!
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branagh My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill Moneyball
Nick Nolte Warrior
*Christopher Plummer Beginners
Max von Sydow Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
With all due respect to Hill, this year is for the veterans. Branagh's rueful Laurence Olivier, von Sydow's expressive mute and Nolte's alcoholic father were masterful. But Plummer is radiant as a dying man discovering joy as he comes to terms with being gay and finally begins an honest relationship with his son (Ewan McGregor).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Berenice Bejo The Artist
Jessica Chastain The Help
Melissa McCarthy Bridesmaids
*Janet McTeer Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer The Help
Most likely, Octavia Spencer will be the giving the acceptance speech for her gutsy performance in The Help, but I'm still crossing my fingers for McTeer. As the other woman living as a man in Albert Nobbs (opposite Glenn Close), she's as bold as she is cagey, liberating a film that might otherwise choke on its constrictions.