Are the best supporting actor and actress categories a lock? Which film will win best foreign film? A look ahead at next week's Oscar telecast.
The two acting categories that are essentially on lockdown this year are best supporting actor and actress. Both front runners for the prizes, Octavia Spencer, for "The Help," and Christopher Plummer, for "Beginners," have done a clean sweep at all the major awards this season, and are a sure-bet, according to film expert Scott Mantz.
"There are two locks in the acting races this year. One of them is best supporting actress, that lock is going to go to Octavia Spencer, she gave the definition of a scene-stealing performance in a movie that was ripe with great performances," says Scott Mantz, film critic for U.S. entertainment television program "Access Hollywood."
"Now the other category that is a virtual lock is best supporting actor, Christopher Plummer, 82-year-old actor, has never won an Oscar in a competitive category, this is his chance, he deserves to win, but it's also a situation where they're looking at his career, saying 'you know what, this Oscar will honor his entire career'," says Mantz.
In "The Help," Octavia Spencer plays Minnie, an outspoken black maid in 1960s Mississippi who undertakes an unthinkable -- and hilarious -- method of revenge upon her former white employer (Bryce Dallas Howard). The nomination is the first for Spencer, 39, who before this film was an unknown character actor in both films and television.
In "Beginners," Christopher Plummer plays an elderly man who is terminally ill and recently widowed, and decides to come out of the closet as gay, a revelation that shakes his son, played by Ewan McGregor. Plummer, 82, has been working steadily since the 1950s, and won numerous awards for his illustrious career, including two Emmys, two Tonys, but it was his role as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 film classic "The Sound of Music" opposite Julie Andrews for which he is best known.
Both Spencer and Plummer have each won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, SAG, and BAFTA prizes in the supporting acting categories.
The other four nominees for best supporting actress are, also from "The Help," Jessica Chastain, who plays a gaudy but kind southern woman ostracized for by Jackson, Mississippi society, Argentine-born French Actress Berenice Bejo, who plays an up-and-coming starlet in silent film "The Artist," comic actress Melissa McCarthy, playing a raunchy bridal party member in "Bridesmaids," and British stage veteran Janet McTeer, who plays a woman disguised as a man in order to find work in 19th century Ireland in "Albert Nobbs."
The other four nominees for best supporting actor are Swedish screen veteran Max von Sydow, who plays an elderly Manhattan man who who helps a young boy uncover a mystery about his father, a victim of 9/11, in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," Nick Nolte, who plays a recovering alcoholic and born-again-Christian in "Warrior," Kenneth Branagh, who plays Sir Lawrence Olivier in "My Week With Marilyn," and newcomer Jonah Hill, who plays a good-with-numbers but green assistant to a major league baseball manager in "Moneyball."
Other shoe-ins at the Academy Awards is the best foreign language film and animated feature categories.
"One of the best movies of 2011 was an Iranian movie called 'A Separation,' it's about an Iranian couple going through a separation, a divorce. And from a cultural standpoint, it was interesting to see that culture, but the issues that this couple faced were issues that every couple faces, whether you're in Iran, or Russia, or the United States, it hit home on so many levels," says Scott Mantz, of "A Separation," directed by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who is also nominated for writing the original screenplay for the film.
"A Separation" has picked up the Golden Globe and Critics Choice award in the foreign language categories on its way to the Oscars, and is a domestic drama about a couple going through a divorce, touching upon topics such as tradition, justice and male-female relationships in modern Iran.
"None of the pictures in best animated feature are particularly great, but just by process of elimination, 'Rango' is going to win the animated feature Oscar," says Scott Mantz, given the other films in the animated feature category were either mediocre critical successes or little seen by audiences.
The four other nominated foreign language films are, from Canada, "Monsieur Lazhar", from Israel, "Footnote," from Poland, "In Darkness," and from Belgium, "Bullhead."
The four other nominated animated feature films are "A Cat in Paris," "Chico & Rita," "Kung Fu Panda 2," and "Puss in Boots."
One of the best indicators of a successful Oscar night, in terms of the ratings, has nothing to do with the awards that are handed out, but rather, have everything to do with the host of the telecast. This year, after a shakeup in the staffing of the show last November, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is deciding to play it safe.
"The best thing about the Oscars happened months ago. Now, everyone knows that while the Oscars are the end of the road, and they are 'the' awards show, but really most people care about, including the people who are nominated, the drama really started back in the fall when the Academy decided to shake things up a little bit," says Scott Mantz.
As a way to entice younger viewers into watching the nearly four-hour-long telecast, the original host for the program was to be comic actor Eddie Murphy, a close friend of the show's original producer, Brett Ratner. But when Ratner came under fire for using a gay slur in November, the Academy sacked him, and in a show of solidarity, Murphy left as host. Faced with a crisis of who would helm the second-most broadcast of the year, the Academy called in a favor from old standby, Billy Crystal, who is returning to host for the ninth time.
"That changed the entire scope of the approach to the Oscars from 'let's shake it up and try something new' to 'let's play it safe and give them what they want.' What do they want? They want a good host, there's nobody better alive who could host the Oscars better than Billy Crystal, and this is his ninth time hosting the Oscars, it's been many years since he's hosted it, he had expressed interest a couple years ago, saying 'hey, they know to call me, they know where I live, they can call me any time,' and boy was this a golden opportunity to bring Billy Crystal back into the fold," says Scott Mantz.
Find out whether Plummer and Spencer will continue their paths to glory, whether "Rango" and "A Separation" will triumph, and whether Billy Crystal can make the magic happen again by tuning in to watch the 84th Annual Academy Awards Telecast on Sunday, February 26th.