Commentary

And the winner is ... you

Updated: March 5, 2010, 5:28 PM ET
By Steve Mason | ESPNLosAngeles.com

In addition to my work every afternoon from 3 to 7 p.m. on "The Mason & Ireland Show" on 710 ESPN, I am a movie-theater owner and an all-round film junkie. I have covered the Oscars for ABC Radio, the TV Guide Channel, the Reelz Channel, SlashFilm.com and Breitbart in recent years.

This is the perfect year for you to clean your friends' clocks in your Oscars office pool. Many of the categories are slam dunks at Sunday's ceremony, and what follows is a list of all 24 Academy Awards categories. In each case, I present you with the consensus favorite, a possible upset and then my pick to win.

Realistically, Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Supporting Actress (Mo'Nique) and Best Director (Katherine Bigelow) are all done deals. But I think there is far more "wiggle room" in the Best Picture and Best Actress categories.

[+] EnlargeKathryn Bigelow
Theo Wargo/WireImageKathryn Bigelow would become the first woman to win the Best Director award.

BEST PICTURE
Despite the fact the field has expanded to 10 nominees for the first time since 1943, when "Casablanca" won Best Picture, seven of the nominated films are also-rans with absolutely zero chance of winning the big prize. "A Serious Man" from the Coen brothers is obscure; "An Education" is small and specific; "Precious" is brutally dark and difficult to sit through; "District 9" is fantastic, but sci-fi never goes over big with Academy voters; "Up" will get its just due in the animation category; "The Blind Side" is not viewed as serious enough to win; and "Up in the Air" has faded from contention according to most observers.

That leaves the No. 1-grossing movie of all time, "Avatar"; Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds"; and the brilliant Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker." Actor friends of mine resent "Avatar" for its use of motion-capture animation (which has the potential to render them useless in the future), and they are the largest voting bloc in the Academy. "The Hurt Locker" is the clear favorite, but my sense is that Tarantino's instant classic is surging. It has a big cast, was a solid hit (over $100 million domestic) and has the full power of Harvey Weinstein behind it. (He knows how to win here -- remember that "Shakespeare in Love" upset "Saving Private Ryan.")

SAFE PICK: "The Hurt Locker"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Inglorious Basterds"
MY PICK: "Inglorious Basterds"

[+] EnlargeJeff Bridges
Kevin Mazur/Getty ImagesJeff Bridges is the odds-on favorite for Best Actor.

BEST ACTOR
This is a one-horse race. The extremely well-liked Jeff Bridges gives a career-topping performance in "Crazy Heart." He sings, plays the guitar and looks about as beaten up as an aging country star can look. He has successfully sent the message that he does not care about winning while simultaneously campaigning his butt off. If there were to be an upset, it would come from George Clooney for "Up in the Air" or Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker," but they are long shots.

SAFE PICK: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
UPSET SPECIAL: George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
MY PICK: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"

[+] EnlargeMeryl Streep
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty ImagesIt has been 28 years since Meryl Streep's last Oscar victory.

BEST ACTRESS
A few weeks ago, I felt that Sandra Bullock had this locked up. "The Blind Side" is for Bullock what "Erin Brockovich" was for Julia Roberts. But I am sensing there is a surge for Meryl Streep. It has been, believe it or not, 28 years since Streep has won an Oscar. That is just nuts. "Julie & Julia" was by no means her best performance, or even in the top 5 of her career, but the Academy has overlooked her for too long. Gabby Sidibe for "Precious" is the dark horse in this race, and Helen Mirren for "The Last Station" and Carey Mulligan for "An Education" will both need to be happy just getting the nomination.

SAFE PICK: Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
UPSET SPECIAL: Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"
MY PICK: Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The statue was engraved months ago. Christoph Waltz, for my money, gave the single best performance of the year as Colonel Landa in "Inglorious Basterds." ("It's a bingo!") There is absolutely no possible way for this Austrian-born actor to lose here, but if I had a gun to my head and were forced to pick an upset, I would go with Stanley Tucci from "The Lovely Bones."

SAFE PICK: Christoph Waltz, "Inglorious Basterds"
UPSET SPECIAL: Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
MY PICK: Christoph Waltz, "Inglorious Basterds"

[+] EnlargeMo'Nique
Dr. Billy Ingram/WireImageMo'Nique has been unstoppable during awards season so far.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Most ESPN.com readers probably have not seen "Precious." It is painful to watch this low-budget movie about a black teenage girl being raised by an absolutely monstrous mother, played by Mo'Nique. Much like Waltz, Mo'Nique has been absolutely unstoppable during awards season, winning everything in sight. There is a slightly greater chance of an upset here, and the threat likely comes from the well-liked Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is terrific in "Crazy Heart." But I am not betting against Mo.

SAFE PICK: Mo'Nique, "Precious"
UPSET SPECIAL: Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart"
MY PICK: Mo'Nique, "Precious"

BEST DIRECTOR
Two possibilities for making history here. Lee Daniels would be the first African-American Best Director winner for "Precious." He would also be the first openly gay winner of the award. But I believe Katherine Bigelow has this one locked up for "The Hurt Locker." She will become the first woman ever to win Best Director, and she even received the endorsement of her ex-husband, "Avatar" director James Cameron.

SAFE PICK: Katherine Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
UPSET SPECIAL: James Cameron, "Avatar"
MY PICK: Katherine Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
This Oscar will go to either Mark Boal, who wrote "The Hurt Locker," or Tarantino for "Inglorious Basterds." If Boal wins, it likely means the Best Picture winner will be "The Hurt Locker." My pick is Tarantino, which may suggest "Basterds" is headed for the big prize.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Clooney
Steve Granitz/WireImageGeorge Clooney and strong writing made "Up in the Air" a hit.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
For me, the best screenplay of the year is the hilarious "In the Loop" by Armando Iannucci (put this one in your Netflix cue), but it has no chance here. Jason Reitman is a sure thing for the fantastic "Up in the Air." If there is an upset here, it could be from Geoffrey Fletcher for "Precious" or Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for the amazing "District 9."

SAFE PICK: Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"
UPSET SPECIAL: Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious"
MY PICK: Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

BEST EDITING
The editing is the strongest suit for "The Hurt Locker." All that tension is generated by all that precision slicing and dicing. Brilliant timing. Something special. It was a big job with a lot of footage, and it required two editors, Chris Innis and Bob Murawski. "Avatar" also required multiple editors, and Cameron has made an impassioned plea for himself, Stephen Rivkin and John Refoua, but it is uphill for Fox's box-office blockbuster to win in this category. If "Inglorious Basterds" were to win here as a dark horse, it could turn into a very big night for Quentin and the Weinsteins.

SAFE PICK: "The Hurt Locker"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Avatar"
MY PICK: "The Hurt Locker"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Barry Ackroyd for "The Hurt Locker" is the consensus pick. Bigelow's Iraq war drama is shot brilliantly, but I think the best cinematography of 2009 was the pristine black-and-white work of Christian Berger in "The White Ribbon." (But did enough Academy voters take the time to sit through this bleak, ponderous German film?)

SAFE PICK: "The Hurt Locker"
UPSET SPECIAL: "The White Ribbon"
MY PICK: "The Hurt Locker"

Avatar
20th Century FoxThe buzz is that some actors are wary of the heavy use of motion-capture animation in "Avatar."

BEST ART DIRECTION
This should be an easy win for "Avatar," which will lap the field. "Nine" is the darkest of horses but will be a distant second.

SAFE PICK: "Avatar"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Nine"
MY PICK: "Avatar"

BEST SOUND MIXING
Easy one. "The Hurt Locker" is the most nerve-racking movie experience of the year because of sound design. Without the brilliant work of the sound crew, this movie would have been dull with soldiers just standing around. "Avatar" could pull off the upset here, but I am sticking with "THL."

SAFE PICK: "The Hurt Locker"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Avatar"
MY PICK: "The Hurt Locker"

BEST SOUND EDITING
Also easy. See Best Sound Mixing.

SAFE PICK: "The Hurt Locker"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Avatar"
MY PICK: "The Hurt Locker"

[+] EnlargeEmily Blunt
Jeffrey Mayer/WireImageDid you see "The Young Victoria"? Emily Blunt and the costumes are two reasons you should.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Generally, the best way to pick this category is to go with the highest-grossing period piece. That points to "The Young Victoria," starring Emily Blunt. There is a slim chance that the well-liked Colleen Atwood could walk away with the prize for "Nine."

SAFE PICK: "The Young Victoria"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Nine"
MY PICK: "The Young Victoria"

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Easily the most decorated and beloved film score of 2009 is Michael Giacchino's work for Disney/Pixar's "Up." James Horner, who wrote the score for James Cameron's last megahit, "Titanic," is a threat here for "Avatar."

SAFE PICK: "Up"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Avatar"
MY PICK: "Up"

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Although there is some support out there for "The Secret in Their Eyes" (Argentina), I believe the ultimate winner will be either Germany's "The White Ribbon" or France's "A Prophet." I am guessing the violence in "A Prophet" will scare away older voters, so they will drift toward the overrated and ponderous Michael Haneke film.

SAFE PICK: "The White Ribbon"
UPSET SPECIAL: "A Prophet"
MY PICK: "The White Ribbon"

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
One of the strongest plays on the board. The winner will almost certainly be the enviro-documentary "The Cove" about the inhumane slaughter of dolphins in Japan. The possible surprise would be the far more conventional "Food Inc."

SAFE PICK: "The Cove"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Food Inc."
MY PICK: "The Cove"

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
No question about this one. Disney/Pixar's "Up" cinched this little gold statue months ago. I could make a case for the entertaining, adult-geared "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," but it just ain't going to happen.

SAFE PICK: "Up"
UPSET SPECIAL: "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"
MY PICK: "Up"

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Put all your money on the blue people. "Avatar" is essentially one long visual effect and cannot be ignored here.

SAFE PICK: "Avatar"
UPSET SPECIAL: "District 9"
MY PICK: "Avatar"

BEST MAKEUP
Always a weird category. "The Young Victoria" is nominated for some reason, but "Star Trek" is the clear-cut winner.

SAFE PICK: "Star Trek"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Il Divo"
MY PICK: "Star Trek"

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart" is almost as intrinsic to the movie as Jeff Bridges' performance. The Academy will want to see T Bone Burnett on stage to accept. As a bonus, it is a really good song (which is not always the case).

SAFE PICK: "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Take It All" from "Nine"
MY PICK: "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart"

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
I have seen all five of these, and "A Matter of Loaf and Death" is by far the longest and most substantial of the nominees.

SAFE PICK: "A Matter of Loaf and Death"
UPSET SPECIAL: "French Roast"
MY PICK: "A Matter of Loaf and Death"

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Again, I have seen all of these, and there is a consensus that "The Door," which deals with the Chernobyl disaster, is the favorite. I believe it is too bleak and unrelenting to earn enough votes for the win. Another short called "Kavi," which has the feel of last year's Best Picture nominee "Slumdog Millionaire," is the upset pick, which I like here.

SAFE PICK: "The Door"
UPSET SPECIAL: "Kavi"
MY PICK: "Kavi"

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
This is a crapshoot with multiple possible outcomes. The three likely contenders are "The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner," "The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant" and "China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province." Social consciousness generally carries the day in this lesser category, and I will give a slight edge to the heart-wrenching story about the 2008 earthquake disaster in China.

SAFE PICK: "China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province"
UPSET SPECIAL: "The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner"
MY PICK: "China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province"

Steve Mason

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Steve Mason is a co-host of the "Mason & Ireland" show on 710 ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

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