Can ‘The Help’ Unseat ‘The Artist?’ Can George Clooney Shake Jean Dujardin? Will Viola Davis Top Pal Meryl Streep?

Photo by Fox Searchlight/Weistein/Dreamworks

Best Picture: "The Artist" is the front-runner. It won a Golden Globe, a DGA, a SAG, and all the conventional predictors point to a rout Sunday night for the film with 10 nominations. And who can really complain about a breakthrough comedy that's beautifully shot in black-and-white with French stars and a director whose name no one can seem to pronounce? (Ha-za-na-vicius: easy!)
Upset: "The Help" is by far the most popular, and most seen, of the major contenders. It doesn't appear to have the broad academy support it needs -- no best-director or screenplay nominations, no tech nods -- but there will be many folks in the TV audience rooting for it, and when there's a collective dream just maybe ….

Best Actor: This race is Jean Dujardin's to lose. His nearly silent, dancing, loving, self-destructing"A Star is Born" turn in "The Artist" is just the kind of flashy role the academy loves. If only his character had had a limp and a terminal illness, too!
Upset: The ubiquitous George Clooney, who has put in more campaign time than Mitt Romney, turned in a terrific, mature seriocomic performance in "The Descendants." He could just pull off an upset here, which seems strange because last fall he seemed like such a gold-plated front-runner in this category, and a possible best-director nom for "The Ides of March," too. Still, I'm guessing he's practicing his "It's an honor just to be nominated" face in the mirror.

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Best Actress: Viola Davis has sprinted into the lead, representing "The Help" as a film and her performance in particular.
Upset: It's been 29 years since Meryl Streep has won an Oscar, and her Margaret Thatcher is yet another brilliant performance from the inside out. Too bad "The Iron Lady" was not as popular as her performance. Still, she's not out yet.

Best-Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer is nearly unstoppable as a widower who has a short spring of gay happiness.
Upset: If anybody can keep up with octogenarian Plummer, it's Max von Sydow for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." Should this spry senior win, it would be the year of triumphant silent male performances.

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Best-Supporting Actress: There will be an audible gasp in the auditorium if Octavia Spencer does not win for "The Help."
Upset: It doesn't seem likely, but could Melissa McCarthy finally get "Bridesmaids" the respect it deserves?

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius won the Directors Guild of America award. Odds are he'll win here, too.
Upset: Old school Martin Scorsese could win for so-so "Hugo," while it's the relatively younger Turk, Alexander Payne, who merits the encouragement.

We'll be watching the Academy Awards with you and commenting on all things Oscar this Sunday night when the 84th Academy Awards will be held at Hollywood's no-longer-the-Kodak Theatre and broadcast on ABC.

See the trailer for 'The Help':

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