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Steve Persall's Oscar picks: 'The Artist,' Viola Davis, Jean Dujardin, and more



In honor of The Artist, I would prefer to remain silent on Oscar predictions, but this gig doesn't allow that. A movie critic must sort through the buzz, history, trends and gut feelings to make picks.

This year is more treacherous than usual, with two films — The Artist and Hugo — that could inspire landslide support from voters all the way to the final envelope. My guess, though, it that the academy will thinly spread statuettes among almost all of the nine best picture nominees.

Here are my picks, along with a ballot to record your own.

PICTURE

The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

Nomination totals make this a two-way race between Hugo (11) and The Artist (10). However, Hugo has no acting nods. Only five movies since 1959 won best picture with that liability (Gigi, The Last Emperor, Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Slumdog Millionaire). The Artist won the Producers Guild of America award, which has predicted the past four consecutive Oscar winners and 13 of the last 20.

Persall's pick: The Artist

ACTRESS

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

This award was practically conceded to Streep when she was hired to play Margaret Thatcher. Plus, she's due — she hasn't won an Oscar since 1983. But that wait will continue, since Davis won the Screen Actors Guild prize and the actors' branch is the academy's largest voting bloc. This justifies The Help's inclusion in the best picture race, while honoring a respected and long-overlooked actor.

Persall's pick: Davis

ACTOR

Demián Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants

Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Clooney seemed unbeatable when The Descendants debuted. Then Dujardin's performance became iconic. You'll see him in retro montages forever. He'll become the first Frenchman to win a best actor Oscar.

Persall's pick: Dujardin

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help

If I had a vote, it would go to Jessica Chastain, for The Help and five other 2011 performances deserving praise. Or perhaps McCarthy since the academy so shamelessly undervalues comedy. The smartest money is on Spencer, who cut a swath through awards season, accepting prizes with the class voters appreciate in winners.

Persall's pick: Spencer

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Plummer has a major awards sweep going, not to mention the sentimental benefit of nearing the end of his illustrious career. One nagging obstacle: His is the lone Oscar nomination for Beginners, and winning from that position is rare. Still, although I'm inclined to go with Branagh's turn as Laurence Olivier, let's play it safe.

Persall's pick: Plummer

DIRECTOR

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Hazanavicius recently claimed the Directors Guild of America award, making him a strong Oscar favorite with his first nomination. Only six times since 1948 has the academy differed with the DGA's choice, and not since 2002. That's too much tradition to ignore.

Persall's pick: Hazanavicius

ANIMATED FEATURE

A Cat in Paris

Chico & Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

For the first time in this category's decade-long history, a Disney-Pixar production isn't in the mix. The Mouse House does have a distribution stake in Spain's Chico & Rita, and won an Oscar under similar subtitled circumstances with Spirited Away. Any of the three English-language nominees could win. For sheer gonzo originality there's no better choice than Gore Verbinski's lizard tale.

Persall's pick: Rango

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Descendants

Hugo

The Ides of March

Moneyball

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Persall's pick: The Descendants gets a consolation prize for Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's sublime domestic tragi-comedy.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Artist

Bridesmaids

Margin Call

Midnight in Paris

A Separation

Persall's pick: Woody Allen's 15th screenwriting nomination will net his third Oscar, tying him with Billy Wilder, Paddy Chayefsky, Francis Ford Coppola and Charles Brackett for the most among wordsmiths.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Bullhead, Belgium

Footnote, Israel

In Darkness, Poland

Monsieur Lazhar, Canada

A Separation, Iran

Persall's pick: Only one nominee made it to Tampa Bay theaters, but that was enough. Asghar Farhadi's lacerating drama A Separation also earned him an original screenplay nomination, sealing the deal.

FILM EDITING

The Artist

The Descendants

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Persall's pick: Keep an eye on this category, one of the most accurate early indicators of which movie wins best picture. With that in mind, I'm going all in with The Artist.

SOUND EDITING

Drive

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

Persall's pick: Seriously, I don't know anyone who can explain the difference between this category and sound mixing. Toss a dart and hit Hugo.

SOUND MIXING

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

Persall's pick: In case there's no difference between sound mixing and editing, I'll stick with that Hugo dart.

DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECT

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement

God Is the Bigger Elvis

Incident in New Baghdad

Saving Face

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Persall's pick: Dolores Hart's journey from movie starlet kissing a pop icon to life in a convent shows voters God Is the Bigger Elvis.

DOCUMENTARY, FEATURE

Hell and Back Again

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Pina

Undefeated

Persall's pick: A movie trilogy that corrected miscarriages of justice gets its reward: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.

SHORT FILM, ANIMATED

Dimanche

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mrs. Morris Lessmore

La Luna

A Morning Stroll

Wild Life

Persall's pick: Pixar's La Luna is an obvious favorite because, well, it's from Pixar. I'm guessing the academy continues feeling nostalgic with The Fantastic Flying Books of Mrs. Morris Lessmore.

SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION

Pentecost

Raju

The Shore

Time Freak

Tuba Atlantic

Persall's pick: I'll guess The Shore, simply because it's written and directed by two-time screenwriting nominee Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, In the Name of the Father).

ART DIRECTION

The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

War Horse

Persall's pick: Dante Ferretti crafted an eye-popping train station setting for Hugo's adventure and re-created cinema's infancy with astonishing details of Georges Melies' method.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Artist

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

The Tree of Life

War Horse

Persall's pick: Emmanuel Lubezki made navel-gazing gorgeous in The Tree of Life. The winner of this category claimed the best picture prize only once in the past decade (Slumdog Millionaire).

COSTUME DESIGN

Anonymous

The Artist

Hugo

Jane Eyre

W.E.

Persall's pick: Sometimes simple elegance trumps flashier fashions. That should be the case with The Artisttist's dapper 1920s suits and classic flapper designs.

MAKEUP

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

The Iron Lady

Persall's pick: Lots of hype about Glenn Close transforming into a man and Meryl Streep matching Margaret Thatcher's hairdo. Harry Potter ends his saga without a single Oscar when The Iron Lady triumphs.

MUSICAL SCORE

John Williams, The Adventures of Tintin

Ludovic Bource, The Artist

Howard Shore, Hugo

Alberto Iglesias, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John Williams, War Horse

Persall's pick: No other movie depended upon its composer as much as The Artist. From playful to tragic, Bource hit all the right notes.

ORIGINAL SONG

Man or Muppet from The Muppets

Real in Rio from Rio

Persall's pick: Not even the academy cares this year. The wrong Muppet tune made the cut but wins.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Hugo

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Persall's pick: Andy Serkis' motion-capture performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was robbed, but not the technology helping it happen.

Steve Persall's Oscar picks: 'The Artist,' Viola Davis, Jean Dujardin, and more 02/23/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 26, 2012 12:37pm]

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