OSCARS * 2012

ALYNDA'S OSCAR PICKS

BEST PICTURE

*The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

BEST ACTOR

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.

BEST ACTRESS

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.

BEST SONG

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.