If you've seen the TV spots that have aired in the past few weeks, you know that first-time hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway have been in "training" for tonight's Academy Awards ceremony.
I may not have Franco's cheekbones (or acting ability) or Hathaway's gleaming smile (or acting ability), but I've been "training," as well — following the Oscar race with a fervor.
It's tough to keep up with all the blogs, industry buzz and insider gossip. But, like Franco and Hathaway, somebody has to take responsibility for the Oscars. At least I don't have to sing or dance (cue rousing applause from everyone).
So here are my predictions headed into tonight's ceremony — and hopefully my "training" has paid off.
"The Kids Are All Right"
"The King's Speech"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
A good, strong list of nominees, though the real heat is between movies about two very different kings.
"Social Network" follows the egotistical rise of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, while "King's Speech" follows the humble rise of King George VI, as he takes the throne when his brother abandons it.
"Social" won the Golden Globe for best picture, while "Speech" won the more prestigious Producer's Guild Award — usually an indicator of what film will win the Oscar.
And I think that holds true again. "Social" just seems too contemporary for Oscar voters' tastes. "Speech" (my personal choice) is exactly the kind of classy fare the Academy loves to honor.
Oscar prediction: "The King's Speech"
Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"
Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"
Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
James Franco, "127 Hours"
Previous winner Bardem (supporting actor for 2007's "No Country for Old Men") sneaked in at the last moment to nab his nom, and it's the first for a non-English-speaking role in this category — a testament to his performance.
Bridges, last year's best actor winner (for "Crazy Heart"), was a marvel to watch as boozy cowboy Rooster Cogburn, and it's a well-deserved nomination.
Same goes for first-time nominees Eisenberg (who brought a snarling viciousness to his role as Mark Zuckerberg) and Franco (who was practically onscreen for the whole movie and made us feel every emotion he was going through).
But my personal vote and Oscar prediction is Firth (also a nominee here last year for "A Single Man"), who has swept nearly all the precursor awards for his role as King George VI, who overcame a crippling speech impediment to address his country when war was inevitable. Firth's performance wasn't just technically difficult, he also injected it with honor and made us root for him.
Oscar prediction: Firth
Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"
Previous nominee Williams (supporting actress for 2005's "Brokeback Mountain") was the wild card here as a troubled wife. Hers was a brave, complex performance worthy of the nomination.
Same goes for newcomer Lawrence (my personal choice), who brought a gutsy, blazing intensity to her role as a backwoods mountain teen searching for her father in dangerous social terrain.
It's good to see previous winner Kidman (lead actress for 2002's "The Hours") back in fine form, and her performance as a grieving mother is heartrending.
But the real race is between Bening and Portman, and it's a close one.
This is Bening's fourth nomination (following supporting actress for 1991's "The Grifters" and lead actress for 2000's "American Beauty" and 2004's "Being Julia"), so she has the sentimental edge and could be an upset winner.
Her performance as a lesbian mother is funny and stern, and the moment she realizes she's been betrayed is beautiful acting — we see the hurt pour from her eyes. But Bening is hampered by a role that might not be "leading" enough amid a solid ensemble cast.
Portman, though, owns the screen in "Swan" as a fragile ballet dancer nearing psychological disaster. She's practically reacting for the entire time — it's almost unnerving, but a bravura performance.
She just barely edged out Bening to win the Screen Actors Guild award, and I think she'll win here, too.
Oscar prediction: Portman
Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"
It's great to see the lesser-known Hawkes score a much-deserved nomination as a drug dealer in "Bone," but he was the wild card.
Renner (a lead actor nominee last year for "The Hurt Locker") is great as an intense, hotheaded thief, while Ruffalo is equally good as the charming, romantically confused birth father to a lesbian couple's teenage kids.
Previous winner Rush (as lead actor for 1997's "Shine") is wonderful as an eccentric speech therapist, and probably second-in-line to win.
But all signs are pointing to Bale (he has won nearly all the precursor awards and is also my personal choice) for his firecracker performance as Dicky Ward, a has-been boxer fighting drug addiction. Bale disappears into the role, bringing out details of emotion in a broad, loud personality. That Bale makes us feel any compassion for Dicky is amazing.
Oscar prediction: Bale
Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"
This category — as usual — is ripe for an upset and the hardest to call of the night.
It's nice to see Australian acting vet Weaver get recognized with a nomination after decades in the business — and her turn as the matriarch of a crime family is searing and indeed worthy.
Previous nominee Bonham Carter (as lead actress for 1997's "The Wings of the Dove") is wonderful, with a comic yet compassionate performance as the eventual queen who is lovingly, loyally supportive to her husband. But the role wasn't showy.
Previous nominee Adams (as supporting actress for 2005's "Junebug" and 2008's "Doubt") is pure spitfire as Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend. She would be a worthy victor.
But the revelatory 13-year-old Steinfeld — in her screen debut — has gained much steam late in the race as a young girl seeking to avenge her father's death. Many are saying she will be the upset winner, and she very well could be.
Leo (previously nominated for lead actress in 2008's "Frozen River") has picked up almost every precursor award for her role as the mother of boxer brothers. Some say her flame has dimmed; her bizarre Oscar campaign ads that ran in industry trades before final voting may have hurt her chances.
But Leo is still my personal choice. She teeters on scenery chewing, but her work is colorful, commanding and electric — the stuff that Oscar loves.
Oscar prediction: Leo
Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
David O. Russell, "The Fighter"
Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
David Fincher, "The Social Network"
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "True Grit"
I'm still disappointed that Christopher Nolan was overlooked here for "Inception," but glad that Russell was included for his work balancing complex, over-the-top characters swirling around a quiet, controlled central one.
The Coen brothers delivered what may be their most straightforward film without any of their signature quirks, and maybe that's why the directors' branch felt compelled to nominate them. They previously won in this category for 2007's "No Country for Old Men."
Aronofsky's daring, bold style is as much a star of "Swan" as its actors, so it's great to see him rewarded with his first nomination — he's a phenomenal talent with more great work ahead of him.
But the real race here is a heated one that has changed leaders in the past few weeks.
Previous nominee Fincher (for 2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") won the Golden Globe award, and was thought to be the Oscar front-runner for his dazzling, urgent work in "Network."
But then Hooper surprisingly won the Directors Guild Award for "Speech," radically reshaping the race (the Guild winner usually goes on to win the Oscar).
Hooper's work is stellar — he made us hang on every syllable of the king's finale speech (he's my personal vote). It's a beautifully orchestrated sequence pivotal to the film.
But Fincher deftly juggled multiple character arcs and timelines with his typically stark style. He just won the British equivalent of the Oscar, and I think he'll win here at home, too.
Oscar prediction: Fincher