This year’s Academy Award nominations have just been announced. No great surprises, I see – plenty for The Hurt Locker, Up In The Air and **whisper it** Avatar in the big categories. But it’s certainly grand to see the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Jeremy Renner, Jeff Bridges, Michael Haneke and Jacques Audiard in there, at any rate. Anyway, here’s what’s what in the key categories, with my take on the nominations, for what it’s worth.

This year’s Academy Award nominations have just been announced. No great surprises, I see – plenty for The Hurt Locker, Up In The Air and **whisper it** Avatar in the big categories. But it’s certainly grand to see the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Jeremy Renner, Jeff Bridges, Michael Haneke and Jacques Audiard in there, at any rate. Anyway, here’s what’s what in the key categories, with my take on the nominations, for what it’s worth.

BEST PICTURE

Avatar

The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Precious

A Serious Man

Up

Up In The Air

As you can probably tell, this category has been opened up to incorporate 10 films. Why? Presumably to ramp up the levels of anticipation and excitement. Fatal flaw? Avatar. While I’d happily take The Hurt Locker, Pixar’s brilliant Up, A Serious Man or Up In The Air as serious Oscar contenders, rather sadly the all-conquering box office success of James Cameron’s 3D film looks likely to see it pick up the big prize here. While I didn’t **not** like Avatar – it was by no means as bad as I thought it was going to be, and the “Wow!” factor was, admittedly, suitably “Wow!”, personally I think there’s been better films out this year.

Who’ll win: Avatar

Who I’d like to win: The Hurt Locker

BEST DIRECTOR

James Cameron, Avatar

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Lee Daniels, Precious

Jason Reitman, Up In The Air

Once again, I suspect Cameron’s name has already been engraved on the statuette. And, once again, a shame for the better and more worthwhile movies here – The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air key among them. The Oprah factor that’s helped ghetto drama Precious along isn’t likely to have much of an effect here. Tarantino’s done extremely well to get in to this category, considering …Basterds was pretty much a shambles (an enjoyable shambles, but a shambles nonetheless). And good skills to Reitman, muscling in here for the excellent Up In The Air.

Who’ll win: James Cameron

Who I’d like to win: Kathryn Bigelow

BEST ACTOR

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

George Clooney, Up In The Air

Colin Firth, A Single Man

Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Possibly the strongest category in terms of genuine acting chops going head to head. I suspect Bridges will get it, for a great Autumn career peak as a Country and Western singer in Crazy Heart – he’s pretty much cleared up in this category in all the other awards ceremonies thus far. Clooney is great in Up In The Air – as our reviews ed John Robinson just described him, “The only film star worth the name.” Renner, meanwhile, is incredible in The Hurt Locker. I’d be happy with any of those three, though I would be amazed, frankly, is anyone other than Bridges won it.

Who’ll win: Jeff Bridges

Who I’d like to win: Jeff Bridges

BEST ACTRESS

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Carey Mulligan, An Education

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

A nod, first, to Mulligan, whose trajectory has been phenomenal, from Doctor Who two years ago to an Oscar nomination. She’s very good, incidentally, in An Education. But she’s obviously up against some pretty major talent here – Mirren and Streep, obviously – but my suspicion is Bullock might well scoop this. The Blind Side is basically heart-warming stuff, with Bullock as the mother in a well-off white family who take in a homeless African-American youngster. Life lessons are learned. That kind of thing. The Academy will love it.

Who’ll win: Sandra Bullock

Who I’d like to win: Carey Mulligan

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Matt Damon, Invictus

Woody Harrelson, The Messanger

Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Strong names – Damon, Harrelson, Plummer, Tucci – who’re all reliably good in their respective roles. But, as with Jeff Bridges, Waltz has cleaned up on this award elsewhere; I think it’d take a lot to derail this one. He’s also by far and away the best thing in Tarantino’s film, and deserves this for the opening 10 minutes of …Basterds alone.

Who’ll win: Christoph Waltz

Who I’d like to win: Christoph Waltz

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz, Nine

Vera Farminga, Up In The Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart

Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air

Mo’Nique, Precious



More pips for Up In The Air – which has garnered more nominations in the key categories than any other film. I’m particularly pleased to see Farmiga up for this – I thought she was every bit the equal of Clooney in Up In The Air and, as with The Departed, has proven relatively quickly she’s more than capable of matching A list male leads. I think, though, Mo’Nique will probably scoop this.

Who’ll win: Mo’Nique

Who I’d like to win: Vera Farmiga

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Almost There”, Randy Newman

“Down In New Orleans”, Randy Newman

“Loin De Paname”, Reinhardt Wagner, Frank Thomas

“Take It All”, Maury Yeston

“The Weary Kind”, Ryan Bingham, T Bone Burnett

Obviously, a good category for UNCUT friendly songwriters of a certain age in the past – Dylan and Springsteen being key among them. This time out, it’s the 18th and 19th Oscar nominations for Newman, so perhaps he’ll get lucky with these two songs from Disney’s The Princess & The Frog. Rising Alt.country star Bingham (and Burnett) might do well for “The Weary Kind” – from Crazy Heart.

Who’ll win: Randy Newman

Who I’d like to win: Randy Newman

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Allesando Camon, Oren Moverman, The Messanger

Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Up

The Hurt Locker is undeniably the best film of the year, but much of that lies in Bigelow’s incredibly mastery of tension, and Jeremy Renner’s performance, so I suspect Boal’s lean, focussed script might get overlooked. I don’t for a minute think Tarantino’s script was good enough for …Bastards, and while the Coens was typically strong for A Serious Man, I don’t think it seriously raised the game on their previous scripts. I’d like to see Up given proper recognition for what was a fantastic addition to the already considerable Pixar catalogue.

Who’ll win: Coens/Peterson, Docter

Who I’d like to win: Peterson, Docter

Anyway, you find out whether I’m right on wrong on March 7. Meanwhile, do tell us what or who you’d like to see win. Maybe we should think about a blog sweepstake…